I talked with Ernie Banks twice. The first time was in person, in the mid-1970s, on a golf course in a northern suburb. He was playing in a charity tournament, the Jack Quinlan, and I was a volunteer. I was taking scores on the fourth tee I think it was, and also on the neighboring 15th. When I saw Ernie on the fourth tee, I said, “C’mon, Ernie—you can’t always be cheerful. You must have some bad days.” He smiled and responded, “In every man’s life some rain must fall.”
By the time he came around to the 15th, it appeared he’d had a couple of beers. It was, in fact, a beautiful day to drink two. The 15th was a par three with a pond in front of the green. He sent a fine shot sailing toward the green, but it came up short with a splash. I didn’t think he remembered me from the earlier hole, but when the ball dove in the pond he turned to me with a shrug and a grin, and said again, “In every man’s life some rain must fall.”
Forty years later, in March of 2014, I talked with him again—this time on the phone, for a story. At the start of the conversation, when I asked him how he was, he replied in his customary manner, as if we were old friends: “I’m doing great—I’m talking to you! You are the best! You should be playing center field for the Cubs! I feel like I could play two today!”
Mr. Cub, aka Mr. Sunshine, died eight months later, in January of this year, at age 83. He’s buried not far from Wrigley Field, in Graceland Cemetery. He starred for the Cubs from 1953 through 1971, hitting 512 home runs. He played in 2,528 regular-season games and none in the postseason. Despite his public persona, more than a little rain fell in his life, as Ron Rapoport revealed poignantly in last month’s Chicago magazine.
My golf-course memory of Ernie came to mind last night when the Cubs fell to the Mets, 5-2, amid some raindrops at Wrigley. The north-siders are now down 3-0 in the National League Championship Series, and a great season could soon end.
But before it does, let’s at least win one for Ernie.