Harold Kasselman's Reviews > Let's Play Two: The Life and Times of Ernie Banks

Let's Play Two by Doug Wilson
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it was amazing

If your work colleague showed up every day with a happy greeting, saying what a beautiful day it was to work, regardless of the weather or work conditions, what would you think of that colleague? Is it an act or is it genuine? Doug Wilson's biography of Ernie Banks will provide you with the facts, the interviews, and the life of Banks so that the reader can make its own judgment.I was fortunate enough to have seen Ernie Banks play in person and on television for many years, and to have seen interviews with him as he grew older. So, when I saw that Doug Wilson, a prolific writer of baseball biographies, had written one on Mr. Cub, I was anxious to read it. This is not a mere rehash of games played and statistics. Sure, Banks and Honus Wagner were the best shortstops in history until the 80's. Most of us know of his powerful wrists and the damage he could do with them despite having absurdly "narrow shoulders" for a power hitter. He was the first man to go from the Negro leagues to a major league team, and to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame without having had any minor league experience.
But what makes this book so fascinating and compelling is the mystery of the man behind the image that Banks created for so many years. As Wilson says, "Ernie Banks was a paradox: at once absurdly simple and impossibly complex." For decades the holy trinity of most beloved players has been Musial, Banks, and Brooks Robinson.Wilson explores Banks' dreadfully poor and humble upbringing in a segregated southern town and his eleven siblings. The guidance of his father and mother largely shaped the child who would become a man who was always "satisfied" with and grateful for his life. While other players took activist stands about JIm Crowism, Banks accepted the way things were-sometimes to the consternation of people like Hank Aaron. He avoided controversy and throughout his career he avoided answering any question that could turn controversial by adroitly turning the question around to suit his needs. He was intensely loyal to his owner and to his team.
Wilson had access to many of Ernie's teammates, Chicago writers, and others so we get a comprehensive examination of the man behind the image. Wilson raises all of the important issues.Was Banks the real deal or was it an image he created? He was nothing but sunshine and smiles on the outside, but was he a prisoner of the image he cultivated? As Wilson readily admits, no one can say definitively, but he offers evidence from the words of teammates or even opponents like John Roseboro to decide whether the happy smiles and optimistic expressions were merely annoying shtick or genuine heartfelt emotion. Just what motivated this man to bring optimism to the game every day year after year notwithstanding he never played a postseason game? Was it true joy or was it shtick to perpetuate an image? If the latter, Wilson shows that Banks didn't exploit that financially in his after baseball years. Quite the contrary, as you will read, Banks' last years were plagued with financial woes. The last couple of chapters will sadden you because Banks wasn't perfect. He was a paradox. At ease and content to be alone, but longing to make everyone he met happy. He was, as he aspired to be, a peacemaker. Case in point- the Leo Durocher reign and the controversy over Leo's treatment of Banks. Was Durocher's treatment motivated by jealousy of Mr. Cub himself, a degrading of Banks' skills, a managerial decision to rebuild or what? And through it all, despite the hurt, Banks still pleaded with Durocher not to quit the team that Durocher realized he had lost. I choose to remember Ernie Banks as a great player, a wonderful man, a man of complexity, and someone worthy of The Presidential Medal of Freedom. This is a wonderful exploration of his life- a satisfied life.

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Finished Reading
February 10, 2019 – Shelved

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