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BGS: Mr. Cub Remembers

Ernie Banks, scouted by the legendary Buck O’Neill, and best known as Mr. Cub, died yesterday. We salute him with this column that John Schulian wrote for the Chicago Daily News on August 5, 1977.

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“Mr. Cub Remembers”

By John Schulian

He works in an office now. How that must hurt, even though the office is at Wrigley Field. When he dreamed as a young man, there was probably never a hint that he would have to stop playing the game that was, and as, his life.

But he did, and now he finds himself growing more and more apart from the new breed of Cubs. He has visited their clubhouse only once in this delicious season. The rest of the time, he has done nothing more than watch the players through his window as they leave the ballpark.

Ernie Banks says he doesn’t mind.

He is the Cubs’ group sales manager and their unofficial host, and he insists that he has all he can do to take care of those jobs. But he still leaves the impression that he would love to have someone tell him the clubhouse isn’t the same without him.

“When I walk in there,” Banks was saying Friday, “I think of where Billy Williams used to sit, and where Ron Santo used to sit, and where Glenn Beckert used to sit. It’s a real emotional jolt for me.”

In less that twenty-four hours, Banks would be playing in the Cubs’ first old-timer’s game with the men who populate his happy memories and the happy memories of fans who go back four decades and more. “It’s hard to believe I’m an old-timer,” he said.

He has already begun a campaign to make Saturday’s crowd forget that he is forty-seven years old and that his final game as an active player was in 1971. On Tuesday, he jogged a mile in Wrigley Field, sweated through a set of calisthenics, and stirred a breeze by swinging a bat big enough to fell an ox.

“Fifty-four inches, forty-eight ounces,” he said. “They don’t allow any bigger bats in professional baseball. You swing this one—just swing it—and you’ll build up the muscles in your forearms.”

Banks followed his self-prescribed regimen until Friday. Then he pronounced himself almost ready to face live pitching for the first time since he smacked a home run in an old-timer’s game in Los Angeles a year ago. What he had to do before that, though, was confer with Lew Fonseca, the attending physician for the Cubs’ hitters.

“Lew Fonseca told me a very important thing,” Banks said. He picked up a thirty-five-inch bat bearing his name from against a file cabinet and took his stance behind his desk. “Lou Fonseca told me not to swing the way I used to. I’ve got to get set when the pitcher takes his sign. Hey, I tried it. It worked beautiful.”

So Banks had the safeguard he was looking for. While he is as courtly as he has been painted, he is also unrepentantly proud of his 512 career homers and his membership in the Hall of Fame. “I want people to remember me the way I was,” he said, “not as someone who couldn’t pick up a grounder or hit the ball out of the infield.”

It is easy to see him as a man-child who may never be able to accept a role in the world outside the white lines of a baseball diamond. After all, he was so bewildered by retirement that he almost left the Cubs organization and returned to Dallas, where he was born. But P.K. Wrigley, the team’s reclusive owner, wouldn’t let that happen. He stepped in and saw to the invention of a job where Banks would spend half his time hustling tickets and the other half wandering around the ballpark, charming the customers.

It was a splendid idea with one possible flaw: The public might see Banks as the Chicago equivalent of wasted old Joe Louis greeting round-the-clock gamblers in a Las Vegas casino. Banks would have not of it Friday, however, as he signed autographs with one hand and guided a camera crew from ABC-TV news on a tour of the bleachers. The best word for his every move was dignified.

“It shouldn’t be any other way,” he said. “The fans respect me and I respect them back.”

Dignity does not translate into stiffness where Banks is concerned. After the Cubs stymied the Mets 5-0, he told everyone who approached his office, “It was Ladies Day and we made all the ladies happy.” When he discovered Dave Lamont, who occupies the desk next to his, had a prospective ticket buyer on the line from Webster, Iowa, Banks shouted, “Tell him we want all of Webster to get behind the Cubs.”

The office litany continued until Banks remembered something more important. “I better hang up my uniform for the old-timer’s game,” he said. “Don’t want any wrinkles in it.”

He reached into a well-worn duffel bag with a peeling identification tag and pulled out his uniform. “These people in Milwaukee made it for me special,” he said. “It’s just like the one I wore when I broke into the big leagues in 1953.”

He held it high and turned around to look at the blue 14 on the back. Then he stood and pulled the top on over his white shirt and striped tied. When he had zipped it up all the way, he spun slowly, modeling it for everyone in the office and wishing perhaps that he could go back to the time when the feel of a big league uniform was brand-new.

[This column can be found in Schulian’s essential collection, Sometimes They Even Shook Your Hand. And for the true story behind Banks’ famous saying, “Let’s Play Two”, dig this from Glenn Stout.]

Photo Credit: John Dominis via It’s a Long Season

Arms and the Man

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Scherzer to the Nats. Jay Jaffe looks at what’s next for the Tigers.

[Photo Credit: USATSI]

I’m With Stupid

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Today’s water cooler chatter is all about the baseball Hall of Fame. The latest inductees will be announced in a few hours and word has it that Pedro, Smoltz, the Big Unit and Craig Biggio will all make it.

[Drawing by Larry Roibal]

Solid as a Rock

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Yes, yes: again.

BGS: My Life in the Locker Room

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Last week I reprinted this gem by Jennifer Briggs.

I have one of the few jobs where the first thing people ask about is penises. Well, Reggie Jackson was my first. And yes, I was scared. I was 22 years old and the first woman ever to cover sports for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Up until then, my assignments had been small-time: high school games and features on father-daughter doubles teams and Hacky Sack demonstrations. But now it was late September, and my editor wanted me to interview Mr. October about what it was like not to make the playoffs.

I’d heard the stories: the tales of women who felt forced to make a stand at the clubhouse door; of the way you’re supposed to never look down at your notepad, or a player might think you’re snagging a glimpse at his crotch; about how you’ve always got to be prepared with a one-liner, even if it means worrying more about snappy comebacks than snappy stories.

Dressed in a pair of virgin white flats, I trudged through the Arlington Stadium tunnel—a conglomeration of dirt and spit and sunflower seeds, caked to the walkway like 10,000-year-old bat guano at Carlsbad Caverns—dreading the task before me. It would be the last day ever for those white shoes—and my first of many covering professional sports.

And there I was at the big red clubhouse door, dented and bashed in anger so many times it conjured up an image of stone-washed hemoglobin. I pushed open the door and gazed into the visitors’ locker room, a big square chamber with locker cubicles lining its perimeter and tables and chairs scattered around the center. I walked over to the only Angel who didn’t yet have on some form of clothing. Mr. October, known to be Mr. Horse’s Heinie on occasion, was watching a college football game in a chair in the middle of it all—naked. I remember being scared because I hadn’t known how the locker room was going to look or smell or who or what I would have to wade through—literally and figuratively—to find this man.

It’s worth your time:

 

 

OK, I’m Reloaded

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The Red Sox reboot.

Dollar Dollar Bill Y’all

The Big Bopper goes…

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals

Cha-Ching.

And a little something something for Monsieur Martin aussi. 

[Photo Credit: Scott Cunningham]

All They Do is Give Out Awards

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Trout, Kershaw.

And, talk of the biggest contract ever. 

Plus, a rumor about a guy I’ve always liked: Howie Kendrick. 

[Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/AP]

All They Do is Give Out Awards…

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Baseball’s awards season has begun.

Buck!

And…Chris Young. Try to remain calm…

[Photo Credit: The Baltimore Sun]

But Beautiful

Illustrator and designer, Gary Cieradkowski runs a beautiful site, Infinite Baseball Card Set.

Top of that, he’s got a book out, The League of Outsider Baseball.

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Put it on your holiday shopping list. Looks like a keeper.

Bummer

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Madison Bumgarner is the Giants’ latest–and greatest–Whirled Serious pitching hero and the Giants are the champs again.

The Royals hung in there but had no answer for Bummie G.

Drag.

[Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America, via It’s a Long Season]

Ladies and Gentleman, Boys and Girls: Dyin’ Time’s Here

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Game 7 of the Whirled Serious.

This is it, guys.

Never mind the long winter ahead:

Let’s Go Base-ball!

Picture by Richard Diebenkorn.

Season on the Brink

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Win or go home for the Royals.

C’mon Game 7…

Let’s Go Base-ball!

[Painting by Evan Clayton Horback]

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

bumbg The Giants are one win away from their third championship in five years.

They won again behind their ace on an otherwise somber night in baseball. 

 

 

[Photo Credit: Elsa//Getty Images North America via It’s a Long Season]

Up Around the Bend

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The Giants thumped the Royals but good last night and now the Whirled Serious is tied, 2-2.

The Game 1 starters return for a critical Game 5, the final game by the Bay. Be interesting to see if James Shields can finally deliver the kind of start we’ve seen from him for years in the AL.

Root-root-rootin’ for the Royals.

Let’s Go Base-ball!

[Photo Credit: Tara Wray]

Are Don Mattingly’s Days Numbered in L.A.?

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M’eh, could be.

[Photo Credit: Scott Iskowitz/AP]

Baseball Jersey Numbers: An Archetypal Analysis

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A friend of mine sent me the following, his informal guide to baseball jersey numbers.

1. Tall, lanky, slick fielding outfielder ..left-handed hitting.. Good speed but a bad base stealer. Or, a light hitting shortstop. (not a second baseman).

2. Under 5 foot 10, middle infielder that plays third on occasion; switch-hitting. Plays successfully for multiple teams never eclipsing 90 games in one season.

3. Outfielder, good glove in the early part of their career. Most likely a Left-handed thrower, so an average arm at best.

4. Third baseman or shortstop, fairly light hitting. One or two gold gloves in the course of a double-digit year career.

5. Third baseman, not a shortstop. Hits over .275

6. Weak hitter.Second baseman. Over 6 foot but under 180 pounds. Right-handed hitter only.

7. Great swing, but an underachiever. Two or three disproportionately great years, then at 275 hitter with 70 or so RBIs per year.

8. A catcher, absolutely no foot speed. right-handed hitter. Calls a good game.

9. hard-hitting hard driving red ass.

10. A versatile number… could be a shortstop or a first baseman, either way a non-power hitter. This should’ve been Derek Jeter’s number.

11. Tall, thin, switch hitter, 227 lifetime hitter with less than 20 home runs lifetime.

12. Another versatile number..most likely an overweight back up first baseman who has multiple years of double-digit home runs but never hits above 264.

13. Third baseman, rocket arm, multiple teams. Right hand hitter. Hits in the clutch.

14. Right-handed hitter and Batter.. Left fielder, possibly a first baseman. Slow footed. Most likely a red ass.. Low on home runs relative to high RBI total

15. Catcher, right-handed hitter. Multiple gold gloves.

16 Right-handed pitcher. Ace of the staff.

17, left-handed outfielder. Decent speed. Hits long home runs but not many of them. Good arm, most likely a platoon player.

18. Tall thin utility player either infield or outfield, definitely a right-handed hitter. Multiple teams.

19. Versatile; could be a left-handed hitting outfielder that hits in the 290s or a left-handed pitcher who hides the ball well.

20. First base, solid Fielder, 90 RBIs per. 25 home runs plus over multiple seasons.

21. Outfielder, Throws right with a cannon.. bats right. Or, outfielder, hits left, 104 games per year in the outfield 41 as a pinch hitter 19 home runs 58 RBIs.

22. Leadoff hitter or, center fielder, switch hitter. Fast, base stealer. Weak arm but excellent glove .

23. Team leader, left-handed hitter, right field or first base.

24. Right-handed hitter, outfielder, strikes out a lot. Big career numbers. Good glove good arm low batting average.

25. Divergent–either a left-handed pitcher that throws soft or right-handed DH.

26. Left-handed relief. great breaking stuff, maybe a left hand specialist. Does not break 88 on the gun.

27. Platoon outfielder, right-handed hitter. 271 average 69 RBI 18 home runs.

28. Right-handed hitting right-handed throwing first baseman. Overweight. Long solid career.

29. Left-handed starting pitcher, throws hard in the early part of his career, reemerges as a more complete pitcher. 15 years in the league.

30. Hard one to pin down position wise. Definitely a position player however. Most likely a right-handed hitter and thrower.

31. Outfielder, big arm, right-handed. Above-average home run hitter with big RBI numbers..

32. Power hitter, left-hand hitting right-hand throwing. Plays first base because there’s no other place for him. Two all-star teams. Good clubhouse guy.

33. Power hitter. Outfielder. Possibly a right-handed pitcher.

34. Someone who throws “country hardball”; right-hander. Either starter or reliever.

35. Backup catcher. Defensive replacement type. 226 batting average 14 year career.

36. Overweight right-handed pitcher.

37. Tall lanky fire-balling left-handed pitcher.

38. Right-handed middle relief pitcher.

39. Side arming right-handed closer over 6 foot four.

40. Right-handed starting pitcher who wears a mustache.

41. Hard-nosed player, outfielder or right-handed pitcher.

42. Jackie Robinson.

43. Ed Whitson.

44. I think you know the answer.

45. Bob Gibson.

46. Lumbering pitcher. Hard Thrower. Closer.

47. Lanky left-handed reliever. Throws over-the-top. 8th inning guy.

48. Similar to 36 but older and more overweight.

49. Left-handed fireball, ace of the staff. However, if he’s a righty, he’s a knuckleballer.

50. Big tall right-handed really pitcher from the south. Wears glasses. Bad attitude.

Trouble in Mind

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Feels more than sorta necessary for the Royals to win tonight if they stand a chance in the Serious.

Let’s Go Base-ball!

[Photo Credit: James Reick via This Isn’t Happiness]

The Whirled Serious

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Pulling for the Royals though I think the Giants will win it all.

Hope I’m wrong. And hope it goes 7.

Let’s Go Base-ball!

[Photo Credit: Charlie Riedel/AP via It’s a Long Season]

Things That Go Boom in the Night

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Wow.

[Photo Credit: David J. Phillip/Associated Press]

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver