Chicago Cubs History: The day I made Ernie Banks scowl

(Photo by Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images for BMW)
(Photo by Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images for BMW) /

Ernie Banks was my mom’s favorite Chicago Cubs player. She loved that he was so upbeat all the time. And yet, it was because of my mom that I was able to put a scowl on Ernie’s usually ebullient countenance.

Back in the days when the Cleveland team still held their spring training in Tucson at Hi Corbett Field, my brothers and I usually made a point to attend whenever the Cubs came down from Mesa to play the Indians.

Chicago Cubs: At spring training game at Hi Corbett

We arrived early at the stadium, as we were wont to do at Cubs games, for a day game back in the late sixties.  The three of us always sat on the first base side, where the visiting Cubs were. I saw Banks standing down at the end of their dugout surrounded by fans.

I grabbed my brother’s program and heedless of his protests I tore a chunk out of the back cover. Running down the stands I joined the throng gathered around Ernie and patiently waited my turn. Finally, I got to step up to the fence and I handed him the scrap of paper. It was about the size of a business card.

“Can you autograph this, Mr. Banks?” I said. “It’s for my mom, you’re her favorite Cub.”

He stared at the little piece of torn paper, then he looked directly at me and I saw his face darken, just for a moment. I was in my late teens at the time, and thought he was going to ream me out good. Then, he shook his head, and I saw just the hint of a smile on his lips. He patiently signed the scrap and handed it back to me.

“Thanks,” I said, but he had turned away to deal with the rest of his fans and I doubt he heard me. He might have been surprised to learn what happened to that little fragment of my brother’s program.

Chicago Cubs: A varied history for a scrap of paper

When I got home I gave it to my mom and she was thrilled. She placed it in the top drawer of her dresser. Sometimes when people from ‘back home’ in northern Illinois would come visit, she would take it out and show it off proudly.

After we had moved out, she sold the house and bought a mobile home. She put her Banks autograph in the drawer of a nightstand next to her bed. Eventually, she needed more care so we turned our carport into an apartment for her. The signed scrap, now over thirty years old, went into a corner of a framed paint-by-numbers painting she had done many years ago.

After she passed in 1999, I had the responsibility of sorting through her things. My brother took the painting she had done but I noticed the Banks autograph was no longer with it.

I kept an eye out for it, just out of curiosity, as I boxed up and bagged various odds and ends. I never found it. It’s my belief she found a way to take it with her. It was after all, a totally unique artifact, a relic of unusual value.

Next. . dark

I have my own autograph, given to me by one of my daughters. It’s on a black and white 8X10 of Banks as a young shortstop. He signed it with a blue pen, just like the one my mom had: a creased and tattered scrap of torn program representing the only time I ever saw Banks’ sunny disposition become a scowl, if only for an instant.