Padres Editorial: Tony Gwynn & Ernie Banks-One Man Forces


We here at Friars On Base, wish to send our deepest condolences to the friends and family of Hall of Fame Chicago Cubs superstar Ernie Banks, who passed away on Friday, just one week short of his 84th birthday. There was only one Mr. Cub, and he epitomized everything that is good and right about the greatest era in baseball history. Baseball fans everywhere, Cubs fans or not, have lost a true legend.

San Diego Padres fans know that loss all too well. Fans of the Friars lost their franchise icon, Mr. Padre himself, Tony Gwynn to cancer just last year. It is a loss that still resonates over every member of the organization, current or former, and every fan of the team whether you are a child, or a grizzled veteran of the lean years in Padres’ history. 

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Just like the Padres icon Gwynn, Ernie Banks was a multi-star athlete growing up. While in high school at Booker T. Washington High, he starred in both basketball, football, and track. No baseball you ask? His high school didn’t have a baseball team, so he honed his skills playing fast pitch softball in a church league. Banks was so adept with the roundball, he even played briefly for the Harlem Globetrotters.

Like Gwynn, Banks could light up a room with his charisma and smile. He was never about headlines or personal accolades. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? When Banks first came up to the big leagues, he was approached by Jackie Robinson, who mentored him and along with Cubs teammate Billy Williams, learned to be quiet, and let his playing speak for itself.

While Mr. Padre was never known for having extensive power, Banks was a constant power threat, hitting 44 dingers and drove in 117 to earn the first of his, like Gwynn more than a dozen All-Star bids. Banks appeared in 14 Midsummer Classics, while Gwynn made 15 NL All-Star teams.

The two men shared not only similar professional qualities with their demeanor, but many of the same qualities off the field as well. Banks was awarded the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award for character and integrity in 1967, while Gwynn later won the award in 1998. The ultimate prize eluded both men for the entirety of their careers. Banks never saw an October playoff or World Series, while Gwynn reached two Fall Classic, only to go down in defeat to two of the greatest teams of all-time in the 1984 Detroit Tigers and the 1998 New York Yankees.

Both Ernie Banks and Tony Gwynn were voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot. A connecting thread that ties Gwynn and Banks, is when the Cubs won the NL East pennant in 1984, the team named him an honorary member of the squad. The Cubs opponent during that 1984 NLCS? Tony Gwynn and the Padres. And of course, each man was selected to MLB’s All-Century team. Banks for his play at shortstop, Gwynn as an outfielder.

While each man is now gone, their presence isn’t far off the minds of Cubs fans in Chicago and Padres fans in San Diego, as each has a statue commemorating their impact on their respective franchises in the areas of their ballparks. Upon retirement, each man also remained active in the game of baseball through instruction. Banks coached with the Cubs for a couple of seasons, and worked in their minor league system for several more years, and Mr. Padre of course, took over as head coach of his alma mater at San Diego State University. Ernie Banks and Tony Gwynn personified what each of their communities mean, and showed the very best qualities of each.

Two men. Two franchises. Forever in the hearts of their respective team’s fans. Gone, but never, ever, forgotten.

Next: Tony Gwynn: Hall of Famer At Everything

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