Nice guys don't always finish last. One nice guy was first and only when soon-to-be 46 Ernie Banks, "Mr. Cub," who played 19 seasons for Chicago was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame yesterday in his first year of eligibility.
If Banks ever met a person he didn't like, he kept it a secret. He was always the antithesid of those athletes who were surly, arrogant and disdainful of the fans who paid their salaries.
Banks was the original "Mr. Sunshine." Hundreds of stories are told of how Banks went out of his way to chat with people.
He once stopped for gas and got into a conversation with the service station owner, who told him a string of hard-luck stories. Banks talked to the man for an hour telling of the good things in life. When Banks left, the man said: "I don't know who you are but you must be a preacher. Nobody else I've ever known could cheer me up like you did."
When Ernie Banks took batting practice at Wrigley Field, the fans would come out early just to see him hit. He got a standing ovation from the early-comers and he would always doff that royal blue cap and blow from the waist. [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
He went to Vietnam during the war athletes ever to visit the troops. Banks' favorite greeting was: "It's a beautiful day to play this beautiful game of baseball in beautiful Wrigley Field, home of the beautiful Cubs."
Banks came from a poor family in Dallas and was one of 11 children. "But Ernie was always a good boy," his mother once said."He never prowled, helped with the chores, went to Sunday School and church, and was a blessing to us all."
Banks didn't play organized baseball until he was 17. He was an end on the Booker T. Washington High School football team in Dallas; he averaged 20 points a game in basketball; he high-jumped 5 feet, 11 inches; broad-jumped 19 feet and ran the quarter-mile in 51 seconds.
He was playing softball in 1948 when the owner of the Amarillo Colts signed him. Two years later he was with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League. "My biggest thrill," he once said, "was in Hastings, Neb., where we passed the hat and got $15 a piece."
Banks served two years in the Army before being picked up Chicago for $15,000 on Sept. 14, 1953. He was a fixture in the Cub lineup until arthritis forced him out at 40 in 1971.
The late Gil Hodges once was asked to name his favorite hitter."It has to be Ernie Banks," Hodges replied. "he is a wrist-hitter and he can wait until the last second and still get power."
Banks twice was named the National League Most Valuable Palyer and he was recognized as one of the greatest shortstops ever. he had a powerful arm and great range.
Aside from the first year the honor was designated, he is only the eighth man to make the Hall of Fame on the first try. The others were Jackie Robinson, Bob Feller, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Sandy Koufax, Warren Spahn and Mickey Mantle. Joe DiMaggio missed his first time in the ballot box.
Leo Durocher was the man who coined the phrase: "Nice guys finish last." Durocher managed Banks and at one time tried to be on the agin star. But the fans disapproved. Banks predictably thought Durocher was a fine manager. Said Durocher: Banks is one nice guy who finished first - but he had the talent to go with it."