Ernie Banks is my all-time favorite player – though he retired 14 years before I was born – and I was recently thinking about how we could use a new biography about him. Phil Rogers’ biography, told largely through the lens of the 1969 season, came out in 2011, but besides that little has recently been written about Mr. Cub.
That’s why I was excited to see that Doug Wilson has released his new book, Let’s Play Two: The Life and Times of Ernie Banks. I quickly picked up the book, hoping it would bring Ernie to life in a new way. I’m glad to say that I was not disappointed. The book is an insightful look at Ernie’s entire life and career. It does more than just describe his accomplishments on the field; it also analyzes the importance of his career, with much emphasis on the history of the Cubs franchise. Wilson spends much time detailing Ernie’s relationship with owner P.K. Wrigley and how Banks became a star on a team that was otherwise lacking them.
Another theme of the book is Ernie’s role in the Civil Rights Movement during which he played. Banks, along with other African American players, sometimes were criticized for not speaking out enough against social injustice. Still, Banks was a strong ambassador for the game, and as the first African American player in Cubs history, he was one of the star players who helped pave the way for many others in the coming years.
The author also spends much time discussing Ernie’s always upbeat personality – despite constantly being on losing teams – which is a big reason why he remains so popular among Cubs fans today. Wilson quotes many in the game who liked Ernie and got along with him because of it, though he also cites some folks who thought it was all an act and didn’t appreciate it. While Wilson provides a well-rounded view of Ernie, overall he portrays him as a good-natured guy who made a large and positive impact on the game of baseball.
Though so many people love Ernie Banks, one guy who especially didn’t like him was Cubs Manager Leo Durocher, who seemed to go out of his way to make life miserable for the Cubs star. It’s unclear why this was the case, though Durocher arrived during the second half of Ernie’s career, and he saw him as a washed-up star who didn’t deserve special treatment.
I was interested to see how the book would cover the 1969 season, but there is only one chapter on it, and much of that chapter focuses on Ernie’s personality, which remained positive during the latter days of his playing career. Some readers may feel a little dissatisfied with this, yet numerous other books have been written about 1969, and we must remember that it is only a small part of the story of Ernie Banks.
A biography of Ernie Banks was long overdue, and thankfully Wilson filled the void with Let’s Play Two. If you need something to do between Cubs games this spring, I would recommend picking up a copy of this book.
Brian Johnston is the author of the book The Art of Being a Baseball Fan, his story of following the 2015 Chicago Cubs, available on Amazon. He lives in St. Joseph, Michigan with his wife and two children.