I just received the awful news that Ernie Banks passed-away last night. He was gracious, a perpetual optimist and Leo Durocher's least-favorite Cub.
When Durocher expressed his contempt for Banks' nice-guy image and seeming lack of grit and fire, it was pointed out to ol' Leo that Durocher had never grown up poor and black in the urban south and yet still managed to be one of the first African-Americans to make it to the Major Leagues.
"Don't think that took any balls, Leo?"
Durocher scoffed and stalked away.
Of course, Banks didn't "just" make it to the Major Leagues; he played the game at a Hall-of-Fame level and was, for many years, the only National Leaguer to win consecutive MVP awards.
This while playing for dismal, last-place teams.
He was a hero to a generation of Chicago sports fans starved for them. On the occasion of his 500th home run, the dour junior high assembly I was at instantly took a wondrous turn when it was interrupted to relay the fact that Banks had, indeed, sent a Pat Jarvis pitch over the left-field wall.
For a few moments, it was happy, delirious bedlam.
God bless you, Mr. Cub.
I won't ever forget you.