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  • Writer's pictureMarc Johnson

Let’s Play Two

Oh the irony. It just ain’t fair.

As the paralyzing cold of January gives way to the anticipation of warm sun and pitchers and catchers reporting in a few weeks, and just as the wise the guys of winter pick next October’s World Series winner – oh the bitter irony, some actually pick the Cubs to win – Ernie dies.

Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, the greatest Cub in that lousy losing franchise’s pathetic history is gone. I thought he would live forever. If anyone should have Ernie should have.

It would just be like the baseball Gods to finally – after a short interval of 107 years – permit the Cubs to win the World Series this year. We know that it will have to be a matter of divine intervention when it does happen. The Cubs, with more than a century of championship futility blowing in their faces like a stiff wind off Lake Michigan, can’t possibly do it with mere players on the field. A good general manager in a luxury suite won’t get it done. And inept owners like the Ricketts family can’t possibly make it happen. Blame poor Steve Bartman all you want. It’s a sure thing. God will have to intervene for the Cubs to win. I hope she is listening.

Who among us who love the great game would deny that its time for Wrigley to host a World Series? Long-suffering Cub fans deserve to have something to do during the playoffs. “Wait until next year” is the baseball equivalent of “mistakes were made.” It’s old and worn out. But, oh the irony if – OK, when – it happens the greatest Cub of all will have to watch on the ultimate satellite TV hook-up. Mr. Cub is gone.

Ernie Banks died, one must surmise, with a smile on his mug. He was probably thinking about stepping in against Bob Gibson, looking for a fastball and planning to drive it into the ivy. Ernie, it seemed,

never had a bad day. During a long and illustrious career that began in the Negro Leagues he hit 512 of them out of ballparks. He was the best power hitting shortstop to ever play the game. He signed autographs. He charmed crusty writers. That White Sox fan in the White House gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He deserved it.

Ernie really did say on a hot afternoon during another long hot summer at Wrigley that it was such a nice day that they oughtta play two. No one plays doubleheaders anymore. Ernie would have played a twin bill every day and then hung around for extra batting practice and to take a few more ground balls.

Just as the Cubs are looking better Mr. Cub has left for the ultimate spring training.

When he checked in up there – Ernie was always early – he probably showed St. Peter his highly polished spikes, pumped his left hand into the pocket of his glove, offered the old gatekeeper an autograph and asked where he could suit up.

If heaven really exists, it must be like Wrigley on a long, bright summer afternoon. The sky is deep blue. The clouds are fluffy and white. The breeze is cool. The seats are filled with smiling folks and the organ music is loud and just a little off key. Four of five guys dressed in red and white striped shirts and wearing straw boaters are playing ragtime in the concourse under the grandstand. Everything is green and there are no owner’s boxes and no obstructed views. The hot dogs and mustard are plentiful, the peanuts are fresh, the beer is cold and it’s all free in this heaven.

Ernie will trot out to short, shouting encouragement to his teammates. Is that Joe Cronin at second? Gehrig at first? Ernie shouts to the pitcher – today its Lefty Grove – and says, “Groove it, Lefty. This guy’s got nothing.” Honus Wagner steps in and smiles. Musial is on deck, smiling. Everyone is smiling. Even Ty Cobb in center is smiling. Joe Jackson is smiling in left. Ernie knows he didn’t do it. The umps are smiling. Ernie is smiling. Of course, Ernie is always smiling.

If there is a God, Ernie is working on her. “It’s about time,” he’ll says. “Like George Will said, everyone can have a bad century. Don’t you think it’s about time? Wrigley is such a nice place in the fall. Maybe we should play two.”

She’s smiling. It might work. How do you say no to Ernie Banks?  When the Cubs do make it, credit Ernie.

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