An Ernie Banks Memory

I grew up on the Northwest Side in the 1950s.  I was a Sox fan, and so were most of my friends.

The Sox had Nellie Fox and Billy Pierce, Minnie Minoso and Sherm Lollar, Little Louie and Jungle Jim.  Each year they battled the Yankees for the pennant.  In 1959 they even won it.

The Cubs were the other team in town.   Their players were amateur and forgettable.  Each year the Cubs battled the Pirates to stay out of last place.  We went to Cubs games only because Wrigley Field was closer to home, and the park was so empty you could easily sneak down into the box seats.

The Cubs had one thing, though—Ernie Banks.  He hit home runs.  Lots of home runs.  No matter how big the Cubs were losing a particular game, the fans would stick around until Erne’s last turn at bat.  Once that was over, all 5,000 people would get up and head for the exits.

The years passed.  The Cubs became Chicago’s Team.  Now they were battling for the pennant each year, while the Sox were likely to be moving to Seattle.

Through it all, Ernie Banks was growing older.  He moved from shortstop to first base.  He hit fewer home runs.  By 1971 he was 40 years old, and playing only occasionally.  Everyone knew this would be his last year.

On July 21st the Cubs were playing the Mets.  The game was a sellout, but I managed to get two box seats behind the third base dugout, and took my girlfriend Terri to the game.


It was a good game.  The wind was blowing out and there was lots of hitting.  By the top of the sixth the Cubs led 8-5, and Terri was getting restless.  The Cubs have it locked up, she said.  Let’s leave and beat the traffic.

So we left.  When we got to the car and turned on the radio, the Mets had scored a run, and the Cubs were coming up in the bottom of the sixth.

Most people of my generation remember where we were when President Kennedy was shot.  Most of us with some Polish heritage remember where we were when a Polish pope was elected.

I remember that I was at Irving Park and Elston when the Cubs sent Ernie Banks up to pinch hit.  I remember the crowd cheering.  I remember Tug McGraw throwing the pitch.

And . . . then . . . Ernie . . . hit . . . a . . . home . . . run.  And the crowd was still cheering when I got on the Kennedy.

That was Ernie’s #511.  It wasn’t his last home run—he’d add one more before the season was over.  But what could be more dramatic than hitting a dinger as a pinch-hitter before a packed house?  And what could be worse than listening to it over a car radio speeding away from the ballpark?

The next year Terri and I were married.  We’re still married.  But we don’t go to ball games together any more.




4 Responses to “An Ernie Banks Memory”

  1. 1 mkstichaufi January 24, 2015 at 7:27 pm

    Another great post, John. I remember were I was when Ernie hit 500. I was where I always was when the Cubs were playing… in front of my TV. I was such a nutty Cub fan, at 8 years old, that I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch the end of those west coast, late nighters!

    • 2 J.R. Schmidt January 27, 2015 at 4:53 pm


      • 3 Jeff Howard May 24, 2017 at 4:04 pm

        Driving to the 1983 All Star game at Comiskey Park I was stuck in traffic just outside the entrance. Moving slowly I was distracted by the attendant when I just missed running into a gentleman rushing to get inside. As he jumped out of the way I yelled out an apology. He turned and headed toward me, it made me nervous until he stuck out his hand with a smile like only Ernie Banks could give. My buddy and I were freaking out. We almost hit Mr. Cub himself. He shook my hand, gave me an autograph and yelled for us to enjoy the game as he rushed off. He never was rattled or upset. He just kept smiling.

      • 4 J.R. Schmidt May 30, 2017 at 8:30 pm

        It’s great to hear that the real Ernie Banks did match his public image.

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