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Come To Think of It: My Interview with "Mr. Cub," Ernie Banks

Bob Warja@@bobwarjaSenior Writer ISeptember 30, 2009

NEW YORK - JULY 15:  Ernie Banks waves to the fans during the MLB All-Star Game Red Carpet Parade on July 15, 2008 in New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

As a lifelong Cubs fan, Ernie Banks, aka “Mr. Cub,” was one of my heroes growing up. So you can imagine the thrill I experienced when I was given the opportunity to interview the greatest Cub of all time.

For those of you who have been living under a rock, Ernie Banks is a Hall of Fame shortstop and first baseman who started his major league career with the Cubs in 1953. How great was Mr. Cub? Consider this: In 1958 and '59, Ernie won consecutive National League MVP awards despite playing for teams that finished in last place.

I remember watching WGN TV on the day that Ernie hit his 500th career home run. I can close my eyes and recall Jack Brickhouse shouting, “Jarvis fires away...That's a fly ball, deep to left, back, back...HEY-HEY! He did it! Ernie Banks got No. 500! The ball tossed to the bullpen...everybody on your feet...this...is IT! WHEEEEEEE!”

His love and enthusiasm for the game of baseball is what stands out most to me. “Let's play two” was his familiar refrain, and every year he had a rhyme for the season: “The Cubs will shine in '69...”

Knowing what a humble and caring man he was as a player, it is not surprising to learn that Banks is involved with several charitable foundations and the "Bank of America Chicago Marathon Footprints for Charity" campaign. For more details on the campaign, visit www.chicagomarathon.com/footprint.

Here is a transcript of the interview with Mr. Cub:

Among today's players, who do you admire and why? 

One kid I really like and I’ve been keeping an eye on is [Florida Marlins shortstop] Hanley Ramirez [who is currently batting .352 with 23 HR and 102 RBI]. He’s got a lot of God-given ability...he can hit with power, speed and can throw. He’s a five-tool player, which is what I always strived to be.

I also like Derek Jeter because it’s obvious he really enjoys himself on the field, and he brings a lot of intelligence to the game.  

We know you spent your entire Major League career with the Chicago Cubs.  How did you get to that point?

I started playing semi-pro ball with a barnstorming black team for $15 a game when I was 17 years old. Shortly after, I signed on to play for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. That team was managed by the great Buck O’Neil and was full of eventual major leaguers. After two years with the Monarchs, I jumped right to the Cubs and was there for my whole career.

Who were your favorite baseball players when you were growing up?

I was really inspired by Negro Leagues players and managers, as well as Jackie Robinson. When I first got to the league, I really just tried to follow the example Jackie had set—as a man and as a ballplayer. The main thing Jackie told me was to “Listen to everything going on around you in the game.” So I barely said anything at first...I just listened and learned. That proved be to a very valuable lesson.

With the baseball season winding down, the next big event in Chicago is the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday, Oct. 11. What is the city of Chicago like during this increasingly popular race?

October is a wonderful time in Chicago. Obviously, I’d like to see the Cubs playing ball, but unfortunately we will have to wait for next year. Regardless, I’m proud of all things Chicago, and the Bank of America Chicago Marathon is just another example of the great things this city provides for local residents and those traveling from all over the world to visit. There will be 45,000 people running the race in a few weeks—over 6,000 from outside of the U.S.—and it seems like millions of supporters throughout the city.

 

Tell us about the digital footprint you created and what it means to the community?

Bank of America has developed a really unique online digital campaign for a way for everyone—not just those running the race—to show their support from now until Oct. 9. Visit www.chicagomarathon.com/footprint to create a footprint and have Bank of America donate $1 to charity of your choice—without spending a cent of your own.

I have created my own and had my $1 donated to After School Matters in Chicago—a non-profit organization for teens to become paid apprentices or club members in arts, sports, technology, and communications programs.

 

I know you are involved in the 500 Home Run Club; tell us about that.

Thanks, Bob. My wife Liz Banks is founder and president of 500 Home Run Club®, LLC brand, which celebrates the accomplishments of players around the world who have hit 500 or more home runs. Our club’s bilingual Web site (www.500hrc.com) provides baseball fans with fresh monthly articles and links.

It’s an exciting new way to interact with myself and my peers like Hank [Aaron], Reggie [Jackson], and Willie [Mays], as well as today’s stars including Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, and Ken Griffey, Jr., as they continue their quest to surpass the all-time home run record of 762.  

Tab Bamford contibuted to this interview as well. Thanks Tab!

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