The news hit last night, and it hit me hard. Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, passed away Friday at the age of 83.
The Hall of Famer was synonymous with Chicago Cubs baseball. He was Chicago Cubs baseball.
Ernie was a two-time MVP, winning the award in back-to-back years (1958 and 1959). He was a 14-time All-Star, and hit 512 career home runs.
I never had the opportunity to see Ernie play, but he still meant a lot to me. He was my dad’s favorite baseball player, and that was passed along to me as a very young, impressionable Cubs fan.
Even though Ernie hit his 500th home run almost exactly 12 years before I was born, I’ve seen the highlight so many times that I feel like I witnessed it in person. While growing up playing baseball and soccer, I always wore the number 14 in his honor. I still currently wear the number on my softball team.
My favorite memory of him is from two summers ago, when he appeared on stage with Eddie Vedder during the Pearl Jam concert at Wrigley Field. The concert had been delayed by multiple hours because of heavy storms, so the moment happened late into the night, probably after midnight.
But Ernie didn’t seem to mind at all. He was thrilled to be there, smiling from ear to ear and singing along to “All the Way.” It was a surreal moment: two of my favorite passions (music and baseball, specifically the Cubs) literally coinciding for one short period.
It breaks my heart that Ernie will never see the Cubs in the World Series. But when it does happen, I know he’ll be looking down with that great smile of his.
*The Cubs have claimed RHP Gonzalez Germen off waivers from the Texas Rangers. Germen, 27, has pitched in reflief for parts of the past two seasons with the Mets, and has been a victim of the waiver game this offseason (he has been with the Mets, Yankees, Rangers and now Cubs). He recorded 64 strikeouts in 64.2 innings pitched for the Mets. The Cubs had an opening on the 40-man roster after trading away Dan Straily and Luis Valbuena for Dexter Fowler, so the roster now stands at 40. If the Cubs are able to keep Germen on the roster, he will battle for a role in what could be a crowded Cubs bullpen.
* The Cubs have agreed to a one-year, $9.5 million deal with Dexter Fowler to avoid arbitration. He will be a free agent after the 2015 season, and the Cubs may be open to bringing him back after that, but we’ll have to wait and see how this season plays out first.
* After Kyle Schwarber was named the third best catching prospect by MLBPipeline.com, another Cub has hit the list — this time for first base. Dan Vogelbach is listed as MLB Pipeline’s No. 8 first baseman. Vogelbach has great offensive skills, with a combination of power and plate discipline. The problem, for him, is that he’s currently blocked by Anthony Rizzo, and his defense is limited. Unless the DH makes its way to the National League, I assume the Cubs will use Vogelbach as a trade piece at some point.