It's a sad morning for me as the very first thing I read was the passing of Ernie Banks. Yes, I shed a few tears this morning for Mr. Cub. He was more than a great baseball player to me. He was my childhood idol.
I raced home from school every spring and fall day to catch the final innings of the Cubs game on Channel 9. Most of you know it as WGN but it was always channel 9 to us locals. I'd check the score then ask my mom how Ernie did. My whole family were big time Cubs fan. My grandmother never missed a game and saw Babe Ruth play once.
My first Cubs game was against the Mets and it was a doubleheader. I went with my parents and grandparents. In the middle of the game a drunk fan ran out on the field and finished up by going to first base to say hi to Ernie. Ernie just gave the man a big smile as security led him away.
Ernie came up thru the Negro Leagues and always appreciated the ability to make a living playing a game. He was the first big shortstop. Most of them were small defensive guys but not Ernie. He won back to back MVP's. A knee injury at the age of 30 shifted him over to first base. For the next 40 years, he still was the all time leader for home runs for shortstops.
It wasn't real fashionable for a little white kid to idolize a black athlete in those days. I certainly didn't give a crap then much as I don't now. When I was ten my parents took me to a car dealership to meet Ernie. I still have the autograph and photos. He spent over two hours talking to a group of about twenty of us. We missed our dinner and none of us bought a car. Ernie seemed so happy just to hang around with us and talk about baseball. I'll always cherish those two plus hours.
From making seven bucks a day in the Negro Leagues to being the highest paid athlete in Chicago he was awfully humble. He was all about promoting the Cubs and Chicago and became baseball's greatest Ambassador along the way. When he hit his 500th home run I danced and hollered in my living room!
To say he was a mere legend would be an understatement. RIP Ernie.