Booker T’s Finest

A member of the All-Century Team...Mr. Cub.

A member of the All-Century Team…Mr. Cub.

The other day, in Mesa, Arizona, there were more than 15,000 packing in the new Cubs park. It really didn’t matter who they were playing. Cub fans descended upon it in hoards. And for the same reason they gather on nearly every game no matter where the Cubs play…it’s an event. Family and friends gather for one common cause: misery and comaraderie.

Here they were, gathered again, smiling, laughing, Vienna in one hand and a drink in another. It was Cub time. It was ‘hope’ time. Will this be the year?

Back in the day, there really was hope. A young all around athlete from Booker T Washington High School in Dallas was entering his first full season. He starred in track, basketball, football as well as baseball. In his brief appearance in the previous season he had only appeared in 10 games with 35 at bats. But he took measure of greatness as he banged out 2 home runs, a double and a triple, along with 7 other hits to bat .314. He really was the hope the Cubs had been looking for since Gabby retired. For the next 18 years he would be ‘The Cub’….’Mr Cub’.

I first met Ernie Banks at a game in Milwaukee. He was there, walking through the stands, greeting everyone, shaking hands and given a warm welcome even in the dreaded enemy city of the Cream City. But this was Ernest Banks, always smiling and instantly recognizable and personable. Shaking his hand he simply said, ‘Great day to play two’, sort of giggling and smiling every second and looking directly into you eyes.

What I remember most about that day was not just meeting him but the respect the fans in Milwaukee had for him, applauding him everywhere he went in the stadium while he was waving and smiling all the way to his seat, next to Cub fans who were simply in delirium as their hero was amongst them.

And it is a funny thing about this Hall of Fame hero. He never disappointed. Here was a man who had hit 47 home runs in one season. Here was a man who drove in 147 RBI in a single season. He was an All-Star in 13 games in 11 years (remember, they used to have two All-Star games in certain seasons). He was MVP twice in back-to-back years, 1958-1959.

On this day in Mesa, everyone was talking about how they got to the park that day and one said he had just flown down from Chicago where it had been snowing when he left. Now it was 80 degrees and he ask, ‘Where’s Ernie?’.

That’s what Cub fans have been asking for decades. That’s what bring hope to these fans who follow their beloved Cubbies everywhere. Now it’s time to …

Play Ball!

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