Day 14 of 30 baseball book reviews for April 2019: Let’s read two (really, just one) about the too sad ending of No. 14, Ernie Banks

613+BarriSLThe book:

“Let’s Play Two: The Legend of Mr. Cub, the Life of Ernie Banks”

The author:
Ron Rapoport

The publishing info:
Hachette Books, 464 pages, $28, released March 26.

The links:
At the publishers’ website, at, at, at Also at the writers’ website


The book: “Let’s Play Two: The Life and Times of Ernie Banks”
The author: Doug Wilson
The publishing info: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 272 pages,  $24.95, released Feb. 15.
The links: At the publisher’s website, at, at, at Also at the writers’ website.

The reviews in 90 feet or less

On the 14th day of this book review series, we must note that Ernie Banks, whose No. 14 was retired with a Wrigley Field banner upon his retirement in the early 1970s, has banked plenty of earnest good will when his legacy is in question.
In the Baseball Hall of Fame for 42 years, the lone inductee of the Class of ’77 in his first year of eligibility, he also has seen a statue put up of him on Clark Street outside of Wrigley Field in 2008. It was spending the winter of 2015 in Kalamazoo, Mich., foundary to have some restoration work when fans looked for it in January of that year, seeking a place to gather upon hearing the news of Banks’ death at the age of 83.
Those writing the obituaries had plenty of material to go with about his unwavering kindness and joy.

So why now is there this — two books about him, all this time later?
Just an odd coincidence, says Rapoport, the former Chicago Sun-Times columnist living in Santa Monica, who had runs at the L.A. Times and L.A. Daily News.

Before Rapoport’s book came out, his publisher, Hatchette, promised “the definitive and revealing biography” of “one of America’s most iconic, beloved, and misunderstood baseball players.” It is based “on numerous conversations with Banks and on interviews with more than a hundred of his family members, teammates, friends, and associates as well as oral histories, court records, and thousands of other documents and sources. Together, they explain how Banks was so different from the caricature he created for the public.”
Publisher Weekly then called it “marvelous” and “essential reading for baseball fans.”

811WqvC0juLWilson’s book, 100 pages smaller than Rapoport’s came out a month earlier. Rowman & Littlefield called Wilson’s project a portrait “of the baseball player not just as an athlete, but also as a complex man with ambitious goals and hidden pains.” It also offers “details that have never before been printed.”
Publisher’s Weekly calls it an “exuberant biography” and “insightful look at the truth and the legend.”
Rapoport’s book, 100 pages longer than Wilson’s, came out a month after.
If Wilson whet the appetite, Rapoport gives us a full satisfying helping with far more meat on the bone. (That’s also a reference to a joke that Rapoport reveals on the very last page of his book, one that Banks liked to tell).

Then again, if there’s any question on fact checking, it’s a shame that Wilson’s book includes this note:

“Rappaport (sic), who had become a friend throughout the years, spent time with Ernie working on a never-completed autobiography and sensed rumination, sadness and regret. Rappaport (sic) later wrote that he was told Ernie was afraid to be alone but at the same time noticed he began to withdraw from friends and family … Rappaport (sic) questioned whether Ernie had ever really come to terms with his fame, writing that while other baseball stars had an image away from the game, ‘Ernie escapes all context. He is nothing but sunshine and smiles. Just as he was defined by his image, so was he imprisoned by it.’ ”
Wilson then cites a reference to a story Rapoport wrote for Chicago Magazine in 2015 called “The Last Years of Ernie Banks,” which became the springboard for his project.
Honestly, if Wilson can’t even get Rapoport’s name spelled correctly …

Wilson, a Columbus, Ind., resident and SABR member, has done books already on Fred Hutchinson, Mark Fidrych, Brooks Robinson and Carlton Fisk. They are fine works.
Rapoport, a former contributor to NPR’s “Weekend Edition,” has done books on the lost works of Ring Lardner and an anthology called “A Kind of Grace: A Treasury of Sports writing by Women.”
If we have any bias here, having been a colleague of Rapoport’s over the years, hopefully that translates into knowing how he goes about his work, and trust in his process.

Rapoport has many more stories that enrich and fill in the blanks of the Banks’ narrative to what really happened.
Why, when in a group of strangers, Banks deflected attention and had a reflex mechanism that started with him asking questions about the person in his presence. It was his way of making you feel better about yourself, without really knowing much about him.
8CQhJMVT_400x400Rapoport’s extended rapport with Banks, who for a time lived in Encino with his fourth wife, is best explained in his acknowledgements. He says the notes he was left to navigate through for a book project after sitting a few years brought “a mixture of elation and sadness.”
Rapoport said all those he talked to for this post-Banks project also shared in his frustration that “the joyful, melancholy, humble, complicated, companionable, lonely man they knew remained imprisoned in an image of one simplistic dimension.”
Rapoport the reporter also uncovers many things — Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune lists a Top 10 of them, including Banks’ ties to O.J. Simpson and Norah Jones.
Rapoport also lists those who he spoke with, noting Banks’ fourth wife, Liz, wouldn’t talk to him — she is working on her own book.
Doubtfully, as rich in context as this one.
If all this work by Rapoport and Wilson bring out some truth all this time later, it helps shapes a narrative that diverts from the 1971 autobiography called “Mr. Cub” (with James Enright, after Jerome Holtzman was originally in line to do it but didn’t, and that’s a story unto itself). There’s also a focused attempt to define the star in Phil Rogers’s “Ernie Banks: Mr. Cub and the Summer of “69” in 2011.
Now, apparently, is the time to experience the real, sad tale.

How it goes down in the scorebook

An not-so-routine 6-3 putout – with Banks at shortstop, throwing across the diamond to Banks at first base.
banksmoreIf truth be told — and don’t you think it should be? — there’s actually a third Banks book actually slated to come out in June. “Ernie Banks: The Life and Career of ‘Mr. Cub’,” by Lew Freedman (McFarland, 175 pages, paperback, $29.95) comes from a writer who has produced mid-level bios of the Boyer brothers (Clete, Ken and Cloyd), Warren Spahn, Fergie Jenkins, J.R. Richard and Harvey Haddux. Why include Banks, at a paltry 175 pages, at this point?


* Rapoport is scheduled to appear at today’s L.A. Times Festival of Books at USC: 10:30 a.m., on the panel of The Lives of Legendary African-Americans.

* Rapoport recently did a piece for the L.A. Times comparing Banks to the Angels’ Mike Trout.

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