It’s true what they say about Mr. Cub Ernie Banks- indeed he really is that charming. 80 years young, and still the heart and soul of the Chicago Cubs franchise. He was on hand yesterday for the unveiling of the new State of Illinois Cubs license plate, just the second of its kind in the Land of Lincoln. (The Blackhawks had the first) And he told the story of how his “Mr. Cub” vanity license plate allowed everyone to keep tabs on him in Chi city.
“I’m better now, but when I had it before I would get it the next day. People would call Wrigley Field and say Ernie was over here, and I thought God, I need to take these plates off. But it gave me a lot of recognition around the city and it was nice. Now I’m more used to it, and I’ll be enjoying it, because we’re going to be winning,” Banks said.
By Paul M. Banks
Coincidentally, another reporter asked Banks if he knew who I was (I was introduced to him as a “local radio guy” by the way) when myself and a couple other reporters approached the baseball legend. It was then that I informed him how one Mr. Banks arrived with hopes to speak to another Mr. Banks.
“This is my brother. We’re family, we’re oneness,” he said. (see footnote 1)
And it’s true, whether you’re a Cubs or White Sox fan, Banks’ ebullience truly makes you feel like we are all countrymen, Chicagoans and family. Regardless of whether or not you share a surname with him. Back to Mr. Cub’s license plate
“It’s a nice honor, makes you feel good, helps your self esteem to be recognized by people when you go to different business establishments. And I go to White Sox games and they see the “Mr. Cub” and they say he’s here? They don’t think I belong at White Sox park, but I go there, and I see the Bulls and Bears play,” the member of the MLB All-Century team and baseball Hall-of-Famer said.
The 14 time All-Star and 2 time MVP is very high on the Cubs offseason moves.
“They made a lot of good trades and we’ve got new leadership now, and everyone’s looking forward to getting to spring training and getting started, on with the season. We got some strong pitching, good defense and some hitters like Carlos Pena, who’s a very good ball player and we got our friend Kerry Wood back- a great relief pitcher and a fine person,” Banks stated.
What about free agent acquisition Matt Garza?
“Everyone talks about his competitiveness, the way he throws, and he pitched a no-hitter. So we’re looking forward to having him and we’re looking forward to him being here,” Banks said.
Ernie Banks has kept himself very busy in retirement. He established his own charity, the Live Above & Beyond Foundation, to eliminate prejudice, support programs that enhance neighborhoods and relieve discrimination among various age groups and races. In 2008, Banks released a charity wine called Ernie Banks 512 Chardonnay, a nod to his 512 career home runs, with all of his proceeds donated to his foundation.
“I’m going to start an 80s club and we’re going to go to the schools and talk to the kids about how we live and what life is about and we’ll do interviews with them and just teach them some of the things we’ve learned,” he explained.
This season means even more to him due to the sad departure of his dear friend.
“Most of all, we’re going to have a statue of my friend Ron Santo. Santo’s in heaven, so we’re going to win in ’11,” Banks exclaimed, evoking memories of his famous “the Cubs will shine in ’69″ saying.
“He’s a wonderful person, I miss him and he did so much for this organization.”
1. This anecdote is required because growing up in Chicagoland my whole life, at least 33% of all verbal references made to my last name circled back to Ernie. The “are you related to Ernie” joke is HUGE among the elders of this village.
He does a weekly radio segment on Chicagoland Sports Radio.com and Cleveland.com
You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank