Ernie Banks was Mr. Cub, but it’s like White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Saturday. Banks’ presence transcended one individual club.
The passing of the beloved Hall of Famer who played his entire career on the other side of town happened to fall on the first day of SoxFest, where not even the most grizzled Sox fans could utter an uncomplimentary word about him.
“Just a tremendous ambassador for the game, for the city,’’ said Hahn, who grew up rooting for the Cubs. “His enthusiasm and his passion for baseball is going to be missed. It’s a big loss.”
“Ernie’s legacy is that he was a wonderful human being,’’ chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said. “He was a great ballplayer, and I think when he hit 500th home run there were only seven or eight people that had done it before so it was a monumental accomplishment at that time. But it’s just that he was Ernie. If you said ‘Ernie,’ people knew who you were talking about. You didn’t have to say, ‘Ernie Banks.’ His spirit was unbelievable.
“Him being upbeat, that wasn’t contrived. That was him, right? That was Ernie. I’m sure he had troubles because everybody has troubles, but you never knew. He was friendly to everybody. If he didn’t know you, he pretended he knew you. Just all good. He was all good. It’s really sad, but we all go some time. Too bad we couldn’t have gotten another few years.”
“Mr. White Sox” Minnie Minoso, like Banks a Negro League star and a trailblazer for blacks in Chicago baseball, also played during the 1950s and ‘60s. Minoso and Banks knew each other well and often went back and forth about which team had the upper hand in Chicago.
“The city belonged to him,’’ Minoso said. “Everywhere you move, they just not talk about him like a ballplayer. They talk about him like a person. That’s the more important thing.’’
Sox broadcaster Steve Stone, who pitched for the Cubs and Sox during the 1970s, called Banks “an icon in the city of Chicago, all over baseball and certainly for the Chicago Cubs.’’
“Baseball is a little bit poorer today because of the loss of Ernie Banks. He is a memorable character that stood out among his peers and was never daunted in his pursuit of thinking ‘You know, this is the year for the Cubs.’ ”