The Cubs have all those good young players, a really cool manager, and No. 14 on their jerseys.
This is Ernie Banks’ team.
He died in January. (See Rich Goldstein’s lovely obituary.)
This is where I came in, boy reporter for Newsday, first swing into Chicago in 1962. It was cold.
During batting practice, Ernie Banks wandered over to greet the Youngs and Langs and Kremenkos he knew from the old eight-team National League.
He spotted some new boys and launched the old soft-shoe:
“Welcome to Wrigley Field, the friendly confines, the only ball park in the majors with no night games. This evening on the six o’clock news, they’ll say, ‘In the only game in the majors this afternoon….’ Look at the ivy on the wall. Baseball. It’s a lovely day for a ball game. Let’s play two.”
I can recall it pretty much verbatim because I would hear it many times in that decade. It was Ernie’s brand. He came out of the Negro Leagues, helped blaze the trail, learned to live in this crazy world -- warm smile, informed patter, who knew what behind the alert survivor eyes.
He remembered names and faces. Every time I landed a Wrigley run – day games, evenings on Rush Street – he would wander over and I would request a helping of “Let’s Play Two.” He would never fail. I cannot imagine prodding any other major-leaguer to perform shtick for me.
The Mets and Cubs were joined at the hip, one an expansion franchise, one a bumbler by habit.
The Mets would win 40 and lose 120, the Worst Team in the History of Baseball.
The Cubs could screw up anything. That kid Brock in left field would never make it.
One night in the rusty old Polo Grounds, the Cubs and Mets were staggering into extra innings. I heard a fan announce to his friends, “I hate to go – but I hate to stay.” That pretty much sums up both teams.
In 1964, on a glorious afternoon in Wrigley, the young reporters were taking the sun behind the Mets’ dugout. (There was no freaking tweeting in those Good Old Days; you watched a game and you wrote about it.)
My buddy Joe Christopher – we’re still in touch -- spotted us in the stands and wiggled his ears prodigiously every time he jogged in from right field.
Hot Rod Kanehl emerged from the dugout and spotted us. When the Mets went ahead, 13-1, in the seventh, we asked Rod if the game was a laugher. Not yet, Rod proclaimed.
However, when they scored six in the ninth, Rod popped out again and gave it the Casey Stengel wink and proclaimed, “It’s a laugher.”
After the game, reporters took the team bus back to the hotel. By some bizarre circumstance, Ernie Banks got stuck in traffic right next to me. I opened the window and posed the question: “Let’s play two?”
Ernie smiled and said – sweetly -- “Aw, shut up.” Traffic cleared. He drove on.
Bill Wakefield, who spent the afternoon taking the rays in the bullpen (Jack Fisher went nine) recalled the other day:
“At a restaurant afterwards. ‘We scored 19 runs in the sun today.’ Return question: ‘Did you win?’”
I don’t care about the Cubs’ complexes. Don’t care about no 1908 or weenie billy-goat curse or black cat or Durocher absence from the dugout or Durham bobble or Bartman interference. Mets’ fans have our own mishegoss. Then again, the Mets have won four pennants and two World Series. Just saying.
These Cubs are wearing Ernie Banks’s No. 14.
Let’s play two.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.