by Jim Riggs
September 6, 2014
All In A Day’s Sports
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following column ran on Aug. 23, 1980, less than a week after sports editor Jim Riggs had the opportunity to play golf with Hall-of-Famer Ernie Banks.
Last Sunday, I played golf with the man they call ”Mr. Cub,” but I think he could also be known as “Mr. Positive.” Everything I had heard about Ernie Banks was true, because he is always in a good mood. I was sure I was golfing with the man who always said, ”What a beautiful day; let’s play two,” because after we finished our round on what he kept calling, ”A great day,” he wanted to hit practice balls.
I soon discovered Banks would not fit into these days of baseball players hopscotching from team to team with free agency because he is too loyal. If Tommy Lasorda bleeds Dodger Blue, Banks bleeds Cubs Blue and his bones are probably the same color.
I told him it was ironic I was riding in a golf cart with a man I had rooted against all my life. I explained I was a Pittsburgh Pirate fan and for the next three holes all Banks did was talk about the Chicago Cubs. He told me I should root for the Cubs because they are one of the oldest teams in the National League. He said the Cubs draw better crowds than the Pirates. Everything was positive about the team and I didn’t want to burst his bubble by mentioning the Cubs were mired in last pace while the Pirates were in first in the NL East Division.
When someone asked where the former All-Star was living now, Banks answered, ”Chicago. The greatest town in the world.” By this time, I figured out Banks wasn’t gong to have anything bad to say about anything. But I still wanted to ask him if he thought playing daytime baseball at Wrigley Field was the reason for the Cubs’ late-season failures. Of course, the answer came out positive.
”Actually, it’s an advantage,” said Banks of playing day ball. ”You can see the ball better. It also allows your family to become more involved in your professional career.” He explained the last statement by pointing out that the players have the nights off and their families can attend the games in the day.
I had recently read that lights would be put in Wrigley Field soon, but Banks said, ”No way.” Before I could pursue it further he asked, ”You’ve been to Wrigley Field, haven’t you?” While I was shaking my head, he kept saying, ”Beautiful ballpark.”
At this point, I was convinced Banks would find something positive about the bubonic plague. But I’m not knocking it. I wish I had his positive outlook on life. There is a saying that if you can’t say something good about a person, don’t say anything. If I followed that rule, I would be silent most of the time while Banks would be talking a mile a minute.
I will have to admit it got on my nerves when I would hit a lousy shot and Banks would say, ”It’s a great day, isn’t it?” After he watched me flub a few more shots he said, ”It’s only a game.” Finally, I realized he was right and it was no use worrying about negative things.
The only bright spot in my game was when I chipped in a shot on the sixth hole. Every time I had a chip shot after that Banks would say, ”Chip it in again.” I knew the odds of me chipping in two shots during a round were extremely high, but he kept telling me I would sink my next chip shot and finally on the 13th I did. Suddenly, I began to believe in the power of positive thinking, or at least in the power of Banks’ positive thinking.
It was that type of thinking that led him to a very successful 19-year career with the Cubs. After retiring in 1971, Banks coached a few seasons. I asked him if the reason was too much travel, but, of course, his reason was on the positive side.
He said after coaching a couple of seasons he knew it was time to move on. He was a coach with the Cubs, then a traveling coach, then he worked in the front office in public relations and now he works in a bank and is on the board of directors of the Cubs. ”I try to do things five years at a time,” he explained. ”At least that’s my philosophy.”
He was concerned about getting back to banking duties Monday, because when we finished golf his main concern was getting a flight back to Chicago, which he was still calling, ”The greatest town in the world.” All I could think of was the rash of airplane hijackings the previous day and the possibility of Banks ending up in Cuba. But, of course, he would end up smiling if that happened. I can see him stepping off the plane and saying, ”Havana, the greatest town in the world!”