A college baseball player whose batting average was lower than his grade point average, Columbus, Indiana ophthalmologist Doug Wilson turned his passion for the sport to writing about the iconic players he admired in his youth.
His latest, Let’s Play Two: The Life and Times of Ernie Banks (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers 2019; Amazon price $23.95), tells the story of the first African American to play for the Chicago Cubs. Recruited from the Kansas City Monarchs and raised in a segregated community in Texas, Banks was always positive and had a good word to say about everything. These characteristics often led to people underestimating the man who would become known as “Mr. Cub.”
“People couldn’t see beyond his optimistic outlook and took him to be naïve and have a simplistic outlook on life,” says Wilson. “But Banks was a very deep thinker, he’s someone who overcame a lot of obstacles but never said anything bad about people. If reporters asked him about someone who had said something negative about him, Banks would change things around so that he deflected the question without being rude.”
But in the end, it was Banks good natured spirits that won the day says Wilson, recounting the rocky relationship between Leo Durocher and Banks.
“You couldn’t have come up with two different kind of guys,” says Wilson. “Durocher, well…the title of his book Nice Guys Finish Last says it all and Banks was the ultimate nice guy. Durocher hated Banks’s guts and tried everything he could to run him out of town but there was no way PK Wrigley was going to let that happened. And all the time Durocher was trying to get rid of him, Banks just smiled. When Durocher would talk to reporters about how Banks was ruining the Cubs, they’d run to him and ask him about that, and Banks would just say “Leo Durocher is the best manager ever. He always took the high road.”
Wilson whose previous books include Fred Hutchinson and the 1964 Cincinnati Reds, The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych which was selected by the Library of Michigan as a Michigan Notable book for 2014, Brooks: The Biography of Brooks Robinson (2014) and Pudge: The Biography of Carlton Fisk, not only read every interview he could find with Banks dating back to 1950 as well as endless newspaper accounts and books, says he also was able to located several friends from Banks’s youth including those who knew him when was seven years old and another who played bay with him in high school.
“I also found three guys who played with Ernie in the Negro League when he was with the Kansas City Monarchs,” says Wilson. “They said he was shy around people. But his persona changed after he became comfortable in Chicago.”
By interviewing friends from his boyhood, Wilson says it helped him see how overwhelming it must have been to be confined to segregated schools and neighborhoods and the challenges that Banks faced in becoming a player at a time when African Americans were just beginning to be allowed to play in the major league. Amazingly, Banks would be honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a place in the Hall of Fame and he would always remain optimistic.
“Years later, Leo Durocher had a change of heart, perhaps surgically induced, in 1983 a very contrite 78-year-old Leo, recovering from a recent open heart procedure, perhaps seeing his own mortality at last, spoke at a Cubs reunion and tearfully apologized to the team in general and Ernie Banks specifically for how he had behaved,” writes Wilson.
In other words, says Wilson, “Ernie won.”
What: Doug Wilson has several book events in the Chicagoland area.
When & Where: Saturday, February 16 at 2 pm at Anderson’s Bookshop, 5112 Main St, Downers Grove, IL. This event is free and open to the public. To join the signing line, please purchase the author’s latest book, Let’s Play Two, from Anderson’s Bookshop. Call Anderson’s Bookshop Downers Grove (630) 963-2665.
When & Where: Saturday, March 2 at 6 pm at the Book Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL. Free. (773) 293-2665.
For more information, visit dougwilsonbaseball.blogspot.com/