Ernie Banks passed away two years ago this past Monday. I remember shivering at Opening Day the season before last with my dad against the Cardinals while larger-than-life images of Ernie Banks and Ron Santo were draped across the unfinished bleachers. As neat as the Cubs’ #15for14 campaign was during the 2015 season that exceeded all expectations, the magical year that was 2016 may have meant more to these two late Cubbies than it did to many living fans.
Ron Santo is still my grandpa’s favorite Cub, and Ernie Banks will always be my dad’s favorite. Upon letting my pop know of 14’s passing two years ago, he had this to say…
“It is hard not to be sad but I know Mr. Cub would probably smile about his death the same way he smiled about every phase of his life. He is the best baseball player in history. It is okay with me if you would like to dispute that fact just like it is okay with me for you to be wrong about many things. Ernie Banks was the first player to: win consecutive Most Valuable Player Awards, lead the league in home runs from the shortstop position, lead his position in home runs and fielding percentage in the same year, he also lead the league in put outs that year. He was the first shortstop to hit 500 home runs in a career. His career was shortened by segregation and military service. He played his entire MLB career with one team and although he retired from playing in 1971 he never stopped being a Cub. The number of double headers played on heaven’s baseball fields just went up exponentially. Keep your arm loose and your eye on the ball Ernie Banks.”
My dad’s undying affection for Mr. Cub continued just a day later…
“In the coming weeks numerous ideas will be floated to create a fitting tribute to Mr. Cub. I would like to propose the most obvious one of all. On the first home date in August every year from now until the end of time the Cubs should play [a] scheduled double header the old fashion[ed] way. No clearing the seats so they can sell two sets of tickets, or splitting the games afternoon and evening. The time between games limited to the 30 minutes or so it takes to warm up the game’s 2 starting pitchers. With Ernie Banks the new guardian angel of the Cubs pulling could poles and controlling the direction of the wind, it would be a guaranteed sweep.”
He touched on something I believe was integral to the Cubs ending their 108 year World Series drought—Ernie Banks as a guardian angel. Now I am not one to dive too deeply into the supernatural world, but Cubs fans should be fine believing that Ernie’s divinity played a role at a few key points during this historic season, most notably Javier Baez’s moonshot against the Giants in the NLDS. In a typical blustery night at Wrigley Field, Javy uncorked on a ball that would have landed on Waveland Avenue had it been 75 degrees and sunny. However, the ball barely made it out of the park as it landed in the basket slightly behind a leaping Angel Pagan. Ernie (& Ron) kept the wind at bay for just long enough for that little white pill to scamper away from the outstretched glove of a heathen.
I can say with complete confidence that my dad’s favorite gift that he has ever received from my sister and I is his old-fashioned wool Ernie Banks Jersey. Oddly enough, I ended up on the Cubs each year growing up, and he proudly donned that jersey to coach each little league game. With number 14 managing and his son wearing Ron Santo’s number 10 in the field, at least a part of an unforgettable legacy was ushered into this pair of iconic Cub’s latter years. I am confident that this batch of current Cubs will produce a few franchise icons that I can leverage into a bond so special with my future son.