'Mr. Chicago' Cubs baseball legend Ernie Banks defined grace

The Sports Illustrated cover story on "Mr. Cub" and Mayor Rahm Emanuel's "Mr. Chicago" title fall short of the essence of why Ernie Banks was important.

Yes, number 14 "was -- and remains -- the heart and soul of the Wrigley faithful," as SI put it. Yes, the 512 homeruns, including 47 in 1958, were the stuff of legends. And, yes, he and others followed Jackie Robinson in breaking barriers. All of this is in the history books, yet it is not what welded an unbreakable human connection.

"Banks was still on the scene when I was a kid, a bit of human magic you wanted to rub like a genie lamp," Rich Cohen writes. This feeling was echoed in a LinkedIn discussion on, "What Did Ernie Banks Mean To You? J.D. Gershbein wrote about meeting Ernie at WGN in 1971:

I will never forget how cordial and cool he was to me (and my dad), answering every question, and paving the way for us to sit in-studio during the newscast. It was quite the experience for a 14-year old kid and wide-eyed Cub fan.

I had been to a couple of Cubs games at Wrigley Field before my first meeting about one year earlier. I was coming off my only year of Little League in Lombard that ended disastrously with the final pitch, behind home plate, on a swinging strike out that made solid contact with the back of my head. I caught the pitch, and rolled onto my back. I awoke with a crowd circle around me (still in a squat), a concussion, and mom declaring that evening that my baseball career over.

On this night though, we were at Yorktown Mall walking after dinner. Mom was in a store, and I came upon a simple sign outside Montgomery Ward. Ernie Banks would be there to sign autographs. I convinced dad to let me wait in line.

Ernie Banks was late that night, and a manager urged us to be patient. Dad really wanted to to go home, but I convinced him to stay a little longer. Ernie was late because his dad was in the hospital, but he kept his commitment. I received a handshake, smile and autograph.

Banks Autograph

Autograph (1970)

Many years later, on Ernie Banks Day at Wrigley Field, I had that evening at Yorktown in mind, as my wife and I talked with my parents and watched the ceremony from our seats in the upper deck.

Banks Day (1984)

Ernie Banks Day (1984)

I am a lower deck guy these days, but Ernie Banks remains my standard for assessing baseball players, celebrities and all others. The journey of life should be filled with smiles, caring, friendship and good will. The grace of Ernie Banks stands taller than his statue, larger than the Cubs and Chicago. It defines what it means to live a great life.

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