by Kent Sterling
Ernie Banks loved his job, and he was very good at it.
For a generation of Chicagoans, Ernie Banks embodied the beauty of enjoying what you do. He hit 512 home runs, and was a first ballot hall of famer for a franchise that absolutely sucked through nearly his entire career. Until Mr. Cub turned 36, the Cubs won more than they lost just once (82-80 in 1963).
Everyday, Banks came to work ready to play – leading the Major Leagues in games played during six of his first seven full seasons. Minus an 18-game stretch in 1956 when Banks was injured, he didn’t miss a single game until he turned 30.
If not for Banks from 1955-1966, there was no other reason for fans to pay the $3.50 for a box seat or a buck for a bleacher seat. Because of that, when new team president Dallas Green fired Banks in 1982 from his $25,000 a year job, I was as angry with the Cubs as I have ever been (even more than today as the Cubs purposely corrupt their ability to win). Green said Banks was fired because, “I couldn’t figure out what he did.” All he did, and all he has done for 60 years, is serve as the lasting image of the Cubs brand and the most important figure in the history of the franchise. If that wasn’t worth $25,000, what was?
Banks was a living and breathing “Clark the Cub” who played in 14 all star games and won two Most Valuable Player Awards.
The statistical greatness that Banks achieved are easily assessed and recited, but the lasting impact of the man is in his relentless smile and cheerful outlook.
While ballplayers talk about how fatiguing playing a full 162-game schedule of baseball games can be, Banks played a kids’ game with a kids’ outlook. He understood and appreciated his good fortune everyday.
In 2013, four players saw action in the full slate of their team’s games. Hunter Pence, Joey Votto, Prince Fielder, and Billy Butler played the game like Banks. The other 750-ish guys on a major league roster took or were given games off.
There is a great story about Greg Maddux when he was young talking to his manager while in Chicago playing for the Cubs. Maddux was talking about how he was looking forward to the next day off, and the manager reminded him that he gets to play baseball for a living. Maddux agreed, and made the decision to enjoy his job rather than bitch about it.
Banks had that figured out from the day he stepped into Wrigley Field at the age of 22.
For those of you who are familiar with Banks, picture his face. He’s smiling, isn’t he? Of course he is. Google Ernie Banks and click images. There are a couple of pictures where he doesn’t have a broad smile, but no more than 10%.
Remember, Banks played for very few teams that had any chance at all of contending, and he never played in a postseason game. Yet he smiled and signed autographs for an hour every home game.
Those of you who feel worn down by your job, think of the joy Banks had everyday and try to find a way to love what you do enough to smile while you do it. If you are already smart enough to love your job congratulate yourself.
if you don’t enjoy being at work, get over yourself and find a way to help others enjoy their time at work. There is no victory in fighting through misery, and dragging others into it.
Banks has been quoted millions of times as saying, “Let’s play two!” That’s a double shift to you and me. He invited it, and wasn’t full of crap when he did it.
If people in your workplace make it impossible for you to enjoy your work, get the hell out and find a gig where you will be surrounded by good people that you can love.
That is Banks’ lasting legacy, smiling through the pain to show the rest of us that – as Patrick Swayze says in Roadhouse – “Pain don’t hurt.”
Life isn’t about what happens to you, but how you respond. Ernie Banks always responded by showing up everyday, working hard, and smiling because he knew that life is to be enjoyed.
Year after year, loss after loss, and failure after failure, Banks showed up smiling for 19 seasons under 12 bosses.
His birthday should serve as a reminder that mornings should be greeted with a smile, adversity met with glee, and success enjoyed no matter how hard it can be to find.
Happy Birthday, Ernie!