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Baseball Hall Of Fame Legend Ernie Banks Dies At 83


Now let's listen to a man who always conserved hope - Ernie Banks died last week at 83. He was a great player on a losing baseball team, the Chicago Cubs.


ERNIE BANKS: Every year I always looked at spring training as a brand-new year.

INSKEEP: Banks was famous for saying let's play two, so it's fitting we will now play our talk with Ernie Banks a second time. In 2009, we met Banks in a hotel and brought an old recording of a baseball game.


JACK BRICKHOUSE: Well, here it is, Tuesday May the 12, 1970, and Ernie Banks comes to bat with two out and nobody in the top half of the second inning against Atlanta.

INSKEEP: We played that tape for Ernie Banks and a smile spread across his face. He knows this play. He remembers standing in the batter's box. And as he listens, he knows exactly what's about to happen.


BRICKHOUSE: Jarvis fires away.


BRICKHOUSE: And that's a fly ball, deep to left, back, back, that's it. That's it. He did it. Ernie Banks got number 500.

INSKEEP: His 500th home run.


BRICKHOUSE: Everybody on your feet. This is it. Whee.

INSKEEP: All these years later, Ernie Banks rises to his feet. He throws his strong arms over his head in celebration. And across the hotel lunchroom, people applaud as if the home run is happening all over again.

BANKS: (Laughter) Oh, boy. What a life, what a life. I remember those things as if they were yesterday. The pitch, the time, the fans, and when I heard that tape, I felt how I felt that day and the spirit that I had and the feeling in my body and running around the bases. And, you know, just thinking about my mother and father, my dad who trained me and had great interest in me playing baseball. And I think about all of that. My family and my friends, my school and all of that comes back to my mind.

INSKEEP: Could you name a point when you thought you'd fallen in love with baseball?

BANKS: That's a good question. When I first stepped into Wrigley Field in 1953, the Cubs was on a losing streak, had 10-game losing streak and...

INSKEEP: How unusual to have the Cubs on a losing streak.

BANKS: (Laughter) It was interesting, but I put on the uniform and I couldn't wait to get down and walk on the field, just to see the place. You know, I think I was the first one on the field. I just said, gosh, this is the place I want to be. So I found out later that Mr. Wrigley had an apartment in left field and I went to look at it. I wanted to stay there. I really did, I didn't want to leave the park. It just captured me. It just grabbed me, said this is the place you need to be. Like, it was talking to me, the park itself. This is your place. This is a place where you'll do all the things you need to do in the game, and I just fell in love with it.

INSKEEP: How did you come to learn how to deal with disappointment?

BANKS: I guess I was with a writer at one time named Herb Cohen and he would give me little quotes and things to think about in my life. And he said, well, most things, Ernie, in your life you care about them, but not that much. So I kind of stuck with my life. I care about it, but not that much. You know, we play the game, we lose. I care about it, but not that much.

INSKEEP: Did you ever ask to be traded?


INSKEEP: Maybe to a team that had won the World Series within anybody's lifetime.

BANKS: No, I did not. They talked about it, but I didn't think about no trade at all. I just was so focused on playing. When I walked in that ballpark, my mind just, boom, on the game. This is a park where you can easily lose your concentration because you're close to the fans and all of that. And, you know, you can see people in the stands walking around, pretty girls and all of that. You can lose your concentration real fast. And I played the game as if nobody was there but me. That was it. When I walk in the ballpark today, I mean, it's the same thing, just me and the ball. And my life is like a miracle. I mean, I don't even know how I got into baseball and I always felt bad about attention coming my way, for some reason. Something happened to me, I do something pretty exciting, and I didn't want the spotlight on me. I got an award the other day at the Library of Congress and I said, gosh, I'm getting an award for doing nothing (laughter). I haven't done anything, nothing.

INSKEEP: Well, I think that record book would dispute you there.

BANKS: No, but me personally, I mean, I always had a bigger goal when I was 15, and that was to win the Nobel Peace Prize. And I think about that a lot. I dream about it. I see myself in Stockholm. That was - that has been my journey. I mean, I've been chasing the footsteps of my life to do something worthwhile. I haven't done anything yet. I have not done anything yet.


INSKEEP: Ernie Banks in 2009. He died Friday without that Nobel Prize, but did receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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