Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks loves golf. At 81, the Hall of Famer shortstop still plays. He has participated in several Pro-Am events and has a great memory of an outing with 1975 U.S. Open winner Lou Graham.
Banks was walking to the back tees on the first hole. Graham stopped him to tell him that amateurs hit from the forward tees. Banks asked if he could hit from where the pros hit. Graham gave in. That day, Banks fired a 69; Graham shot 70. Glenn Monday has known Banks for many years and this interview is based on many conversations with him. Here he talks baseball.
Why did you play shortstop?
My mother took me to a church picnic [when I was a young man]. Some members were organizing a softball game. When they looked at me, they said, ‘Ernie, you are our shortstop.’ I did it, and that is how it started.
Did team owner William Wrigley Jr. have a special box seat at the park?
No, what he did was go up to the ticket window just before the game and buy a ticket in the bleachers. He always went to the games alone.
Did you ever visit his office or go out to dinner with Wrigley?
No, but I remember a time that he wanted to talk with me. It was during spring training. He asked me to meet him in the stands behind home plate. He wanted to meet with me in the morning. I got there early and waited for him. A black Cadillac pulled up, and Mr. Wrigley got out of the back and walked over to me. As usual he was wearing a brown suit and a brown hat. He came over to me and said, “I hear that you are not trying.” I said, “I’m trying as hard as I can.” Then he got up and walked back to his car and left. Later that week he called a team meeting and told all of the players that he wanted everyone to try as hard as Banks.
When you played for the Cubs, did you have a spare glove that was always ready to go if you needed it?
My father would break in a new glove for me. He was the best at that, so I always had a back up.
What is the hat in the stands story?
As a young player [I was] on a team called the Kansas City Monarchs; when a player would hit a home run, the fans wanted to reward that player. So the tradition at the time was that, after you rounded the bases, you could go up into the stands holding your hat as the fans put money in it. That was always fun. Those fans loved to hear and see the homer.
What was it like facing all of those fastball pitchers?
These guys threw heat; they were known as flame throwers. Home-run hitters like to hit the fastball; when you hit it, the ball flies farther. When I stood in the batter’s box, [the pitch] to my eye ... looked like slow motion. (Banks hit 512 home runs and played in 14 All-Star games.)
What type of a play that you haven’t been in do you wish you would have been in?
I would like to steal home to win the World Series for the Cubs!
Glenn Monday is an L.A.-based teaching pro and author of “Know Your Swing.” For more, visit mondaygolf.net.