The smile says it all. Even in the twilight of his baseball career — as on this 1969 Topps card, just before heading into his final season as a regular — Ernie Banks was overjoyed to be playing baseball. I’m too young to have seen Banks play, but when I came into possession of that card, one of about two thousand from the 1965-1975 period handed down by my cousin Allan, along with plenty of Hank Aarons and a few of Willie Mays, I’d like to think my own smile was that wide upon discovering the lone entry from “Mr. Cub.”
Alas, that smile has been extinguished, as Banks passed away on Friday at the age of 83. Over at Sports Illustrated, we’ve got the full salute, with Tom Verducci on why Banks will be missed, Cliff Corcoran on the outline of his stellar career, Rich Cohen from the past summer’s “Where Are They Now?” issue whose cover he graced. My own entry focuses on Banks’ home run prowess, the likes of which had barely been seen from a shortstop prior to his mid-Fifties breakout, and his standing with regards to advanced metrics, including JAWS. For all the number-crunching, though, nothing can quantify the power of that smile, which lit the baseball world for so long.