I’ll bet that headline grabbed your attention.
I’ve been waiting to write it for too many years.
But Barack Obama finally did something right.
Last week he awarded the Medal of Freedom to Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, one of the greatest shortstops ever to play Major League Baseball.
I say this not only as a baseball fan, but as a one-time teammate and manager of Ernie Banks.
Has Farah gone off the deep end? Is he claiming to have played Major League Baseball?
As I have explained before in this space, I got to know Ernie Banks as a teammate and as his player-manager in the oldest Hollywood celebrity softball league, which I co-founded in the 1980s.
What I can tell you about this sports legend is that everything Barack Obama said about him is true. So, not only did he do something right, he also told the truth for once.
“That’s Mr. Cub – the man who came up through the Negro Leagues, making $7 a day, and became the first black player to suit up for the Cubs and one of the greatest hitters of all time,” said Obama in presenting the award established by President John F. Kennedy in 1963. “In the process, Ernie became known as much for his 512 home runs as for his cheer and his optimism, and his eternal faith that someday the Cubs would go all the way.”
Banks was among 16 people to receive the honor last Wednesday, which is presented for “especially meritorious contribution to the security and national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” I won’t comment on some of the others selected – such as Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey.
Other baseball players who have received the award include Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Stan Musial – all good men, indeed. But I never played with any of them.
So what was it like to play with Ernie Banks?
I’ll never forget the opportunity I had to play part of a season with Ernie Banks as my first baseman. I was the player-manager for the Nighthawks in that fast-pitch softball league for more than a decade. I played shortstop and pitched.
One day, we noticed an older man watching our game in Santa Monica. He had watched more than one game. One of my teammates asked if he liked baseball. He said he did. Turns out it was Ernie Banks!
On a lark, we asked if he’d like to join us. He said sure.
And for the rest of that season, he became my first baseman.
I cannot tell you what a thrill it was every time I had to throw over to first base from shortstop to see Ernie Banks receiving the ball. It was a fulfillment of my first fantasy – to play Major League Baseball.
Ernie Banks was my age now when he was playing for my team in the 1980s. Today he is 82.
What an inspirational figure.
After I recounted this story for the first time, I got a nice email from Ernie Banks. That’s how thoughtful and alert he is.
“Joseph: Suzie Que was kind enough to share your article with me. Wow! Thanks so much for your kind words. I wish you all the best, and you’re right. When you find something that you love, it’s never work, and yes, ‘Let’s Play Two.’”
Suzie Que is an avid WND follower and Ernie Banks fan. She sent him a link to my column. She was sweet enough to add the following in her communication with the baseball great: “I personally wish to thank you so much for helping to encourage this man because he has been so very helpful to so many people and continues to do so amid great danger and pressures. May God richly bless you and your family, Sir.”
Thank you, again, Ernie Banks, for being such an inspiration to millions. There aren’t many like you in the professional sports culture today – people who have their priorities straight, people who appreciate what God has given them, people who recognize how fortunate they are to be blessed with talent and have the opportunity to use it and demonstrate it every day.
He’s so good, he can even inspire Barack Obama to do the right thing.