Let us pause for just a moment and step away from all the noise that surrounds the sports world these days.
We can push away from Deflategate, turn our attention away from Richard Sherman, who won’t stop talking, and Marshawn Lynch, who doesn’t want to start. We can forget for a moment Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Bill Nye the Science Guy and all the foolishness that will ensue today at Super Bowl media day.
We can temporarily erase the memory of every loud, overbearing, cocky, overpaid, entitled athlete who has ever graced a SportsCenter highlight or grabbed a newspaper headline.
Let us banish thoughts of every athlete who has ever brought disgrace to himself, his team or his sport.
And let us instead ponder Ernest “Ernie” Banks.
Born in Dallas as one of 12 children, Ernie began playing baseball as a child with a $3 glove his father gave him. Banks began his career in Negro league baseball in 1950. Finally he got his shot at the major leagues in 1953, with the Chicago Cubs jerseys.
From then until his retirement at the end of the 1971 season, Banks played brilliantly. He was a 14 time all star, two time most valuable player, won the National League home run and RBI championships twice each, was a career .274 hitter, with 2,583 hits, 512 home runs and 1,636 RBI.
As a result, he became a first ballot selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.
One thing he never did was play a single postseason game, not one, ever.
Ernie Banks’ Cubs jerseys were, well, the Cubs jerseys, baseball’s lovable losers, out of the pennant race by Memorial Day, drawing large crowds of sun soaked fans to quaint old Wrigley Field, but never getting so much as a sniff of the playoffs.
Well, maybe just one. In 1969, the Cubs jerseys had an 812 game lead in their division with just over a month left in the season, but would lose 17 of their last 25 games as they were overtaken by the New York Mets jerseys.
Through the heart of Banks’ career, he was tied to his ballclub by baseball’s reserve clause. The only way he could change teams was through a trade.
He could have tried to force the Cubs jerseys to trade him. He could have complained to the media, whined to club executives, dogged it on the field, putting forth only a half hearted effort in an attempt to escape the chains of his contract, which at its zenith paid him the princely sum of $85,000, which today’s players can easily dig out from under the cushions on their couches.
He could have been a bad actor off the field, taking his frustration with the team’s terrible play out on everyone around him. He could have been a divisive, disruptive, polarizing figure.
But he wasn’t. Instead, Ernie Banks played hard, every day. He played with grace, with class, with a smile on his face, despite the fact the Cubs jerseys were perennial cellar dwellers.
He was a role model, both on and off the field. He was a great ambassador not only for his team, but for his sport, and the city in which he played.
And it is not that he didn’t care somehow, that playing for a perennial also ran didn’t chip away at his soul toward the end of every season.
“It’s a shame that a lot of great ball players never even got a chance to play in the World Series. Players like Ernie Banks,” said former pitcher Rich “Goose” cheap mlb jerseys china Gossage. “I heard him say once that he’ll always have an open feeling in his heart because of not playing in a World Series.”
Ernie’s heart failed last week, taking him at the age of 83. His legacy is one of success on the field, and grace off it. He was one of the greatest of all time, but never pretended to be anything but what he was, a ballplayer.