Reading a Good Book Lately
I’m not quite finished with Ron Rapoport’s new Ernie Banks bio (Let’s Play Two: The Legend of Mr. Cub; The Life of Ernie Banks), but since today’s an off-day I’ll offer a thumbnail review based on the first 300+ pages.
I was surprised to learn when he died that Banks was married four times, the golden sombrero of matrimony. The dissolution of #1 included allegations by his first wife of domestic abuse. The fact that he shook them off to become the sunshiny ambassador for baseball that most people conjure at the mention of his name is one of the starkest contrasts the book draws between then and now. I dare say that even if Addison Russell goes on to an illustrious statistical career, he has no shot at an alias anything like Mr. Cub.
The star-crossed season of 1969 yields many other measures of how drastically time gradually changes everything.
A strong case is presented that Durocher caused the Cub collapse that year by wearing his players out in more ways than one.
Hundley caught more than 150 games, including both ends of nine of the team’s 15(!) doubleheaders.
Jenkins started 42 games, but was called a quitter by his manager.
Holtzman was labeled a “gutless Jew” in front of the team.
Banks set a record for RBIs by a 38-year-old despite the campaign waged by Durocher since coming to the Cubs to retire him so he wouldn’t have to share the spotlight.
Leo himself was AWOL six times that season, including once to attend a bachelor party in his own honor.
Not exactly the stuff of Joe Maddon.
I was about to start high school in the summer of ’69 when we landed on the moon and the Cubs too seemed on the verge of historic achievement, only to crash land in September. Half a century later, I chip off a chapter or two a night of a book about the bygone days before lights out, about the time the games start when the Cubs are on a west coast swing. Sometimes I wake up to find a game-winning 9th inning homer by Rizzo under my pillow. Most times not…