Surprisingly this is only the second book written about Ernie Banks and it amounts to an unauthorized autobiography of one of baseball's giants, but one whom the modern fan, outside of Chicago, is apt to overlook. Despite the size of Chicago and the fact it is not a minor media market, Banks is not on the radar of most fans who never saw him play -- despite his Hall of Fame resume.
And considering that Banks last played in 1971, that's a shame. This book clearly tells the story of a man who loved the game and felt lucky every single day he got to play or even be around the game. And the truth is the man should be one of the true legends of the game a name spoken of in the same breath as Ruth, Mantle, Drysdale and others. How good was Banks? Statistically and historically Rob Neyer said that Willie Mays "might have been as good as Banks" (p 191). That says just about everything a fan really needs to know.
And that's another big part of this story, the story no one outside Chicago seems to know about P. K. Wrigley, labor relations, racism, his desire to win and how he treated his fans, players and even his managers as he ran the Cubs, trying to do right by everyone. After reading you can certainly understand why he was such a beloved figure in the game, as well as unstained, why Wrigley Field is considered one of the most sacred of baseball's yards. It's a fascinating contrast with the owners of today who see their players though a very different colored set of glasses due to free agency and the efforts of the players union.
Yet, for all the cheerfulness and positive energy that Banks and Wrigley produce upon this reading, the book is the story too of the failure of the '69 Cubs, a collapse that even a Mets fan would have to categorize as epic.
That failure rests upon another historic figure, that of Leo Durocher, whose gross mismanagement and tactics of a previous era didn't survive well in the post expansion world. Durocher was always a spotlight hog, and always wanted to be the center of attention, the key man, something he was never allowed to be in Chicago while Ernie Banks was "Mr. Cub." It was something that rankled him to such an extent he kept trying to undermine Banks for his entire time in Chicago, something that Banks surprisingly never managed to let get un his skin.
For the most part I'd tell you that in loved this book. It's a great read, a positive read, and the story of a Hall of Famer, not just as a ballplayer but as a human being. We can all learn a lot from Ernie Banks.
It's an easy read, but not one without a few flaws, the biggest ones that bothered me were the repetition of a number of the stories, but as it doesn't happen too often it only detracts a little from the book.
This is a good one, and one that pretty much every fan should enjoy, call it required reading about one of baseball's all time good guys, and one who appreciated getting to play a game for an entire career.
AHP Rating: 3 Balls
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