Of course, this installment of the series, two weeks from pitcher/catcher reporting day, would have featured Ernie Banks even if he hadn't passed away unexpectedly less than two weeks ago.
There isn't a lot more I can say about Ernie that hasn't already been said in the many eulogies written, including the one I posted here the day after he died.
One thing that's worth remembering about Ernie shows up in the photo above, which was undated but I believe is probably from the 1966 or 1967 season. You can see the batting stance that gave him the power to hit 512 home runs. Every one of us who saw Ernie play remember the wrists and the way he flicked his fingers on and off the bat waiting for each pitch. Many hitters generate power from their legs or torso. With Ernie it seemed to be all in the wrists. Watch again the video of his 500th home run:
You can see the wrist action and how effortlessly he appears to simply guide the baseball on a low-arcing line toward the bleachers. This is how I recall most of Ernie's home runs -- not towering fly balls as you might see from today's top power hitters, but line drives laced into the seats. They were almost works of art.Here's the complete list of all Cubs who have worn No. 14:
Guy Bush(1932), Zack Taylor (1933), Charlie Root(1934), Larry French (1935-41), Ken Raffensberger (1941), Lou Novikoff (1942), Vallie Eaves (1942), Paul Schramka (1953), Ernie Banks (player and coach, 1953-1973)
Interestingly enough, the number wasn't issued at all between 1942 and 1953, so no Cub wore it in the 1945 World Series, though it was worn in three previous World Series by Guy Bush (1932) and Larry French (1935 and 1938). Also, besides Banks, Schramka and Novikoff, all the other Cubs who wore No. 14 were pitchers.
I mentioned this in the Ernie tribute linked above, but it's worth repeating. Paul Schramka had been signed by the Cubs in 1949 and played two years in the system before two years of military duty. In 1953 he began the year with the team and appeared in the Cubs' first two games, as a pinch-runner in one, a defensive replacement in the other. He never had a big-league plate appearance; he went back to the minor leagues and played one more year before retiring.
When Ernie's number was retired August 22, 1982, Schramka sent a congratulatory telegram, saying, "I left all the hits in the jersey for you."
That was a fine tribute to a great man. When the Cubs win the World Series, every one of us will be thrilled... but sad that Ernie Banks didn't live to see it happen.