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Let’s Play Two

September 8, 2019

Hugh Atkins

I just read Let’s Play Two: The Legend of Mr. Cub, The Life of Ernie Banks by Ron Rapoport. It has been in my to-read stack since Father’s Day, but it was worth the wait. Obviously, this is a biography of the most popular player in Chicago Cubs history, and it is especially timely, as we are 50 years removed from the Cubs collapse in 1969 that opened the door for the Miracle Mets to win the World Series. Let’s Play Two is not merely a biography of Ernie Banks; it is a history of the Cubs during his time with the team. As such, Rapoport devotes a good deal of space to the 1969 pennant race.

Rapoport follows Banks from the days of Banks’ youth in Dallas, Texas, during his time with the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues, and, of course, his stellar career with the Cubs. It is well known that, despite hitting 512 home runs, winning two National League Most Valuable Player Awards, playing in 14 All-Star games, and being a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Banks never played in the World Series. While the book points out that Banks was extremely disappointed about having not played in the Fall Classic, he never let it affect his positive personality. Rapoport confirms that Banks was genuinely a good guy; he really loved baseball, and “let’s play two,” was not merely a catchphrase.

© 2019 by Ron Rapoport

Rapoport conducted interviews with some of Banks’ great contemporaries. Henry Aaron, Ferguson Jenkins, and Billy Williams all contributed to this book. But I also enjoyed reading the names of lesser-known players from the days of my youth like Bill Hands, Ken Holtzman, Randy Hundley, Rich Nye, and Gene Oliver.

The most interesting part of the book was the coverage of the collapse in 1969–and what a collapse it was. After Holtzman tossed a no-hitter against the Atlanta Braves on August 19, the Cubs led the New York Mets by eight games with just six weeks left in the season, but they ended up finishing eight games back; that’s a 16-game swing. Rapoport covers the details of how it all happened and provides some theories on the possible causes.

The famous Bleacher Bums of Wrigley Field get their due in the book as well, but they don’t come across as the lovable, devoted fans many of today’s Cubs enthusiasts seem to remember them being. In fact, the Bums turned on the Cubs after the collapse. Quotes from players with the Mets and St. Louis Cardinals indicate that the Cubs antics made opponents play harder against the them. Other teams also took umbrage with Ron Santo’s on-field bush-league heel-clicking following a Cub victory.

There is plenty of humor in Let’s Play Two, especially when the book gets to the point when Joe Pepitone joins the Cubs in 1970.

Perhaps the best thing about Let’s Play Two is that it refutes much of the venom Leo Durocher spouted about Banks in his autobiography Nice Guys Finish Last, published in 1975. When Durocher arrived in Chicago as the new manager in 1966, he was jealous of Banks’ popularity; he hated that Banks was known as Mr. Cub. Durocher wanted to be the center of attention, so he set out on a mission to belittle Banks, with the ultimate goal of forcing him out of Chicago, if not out of baseball completely. Banks handled the situation with his trademark grace and never said an unkind word about Durocher.

Love or hate the Chicago Cubs, Ernie Banks was a baseball treasure. Ron Rapoport tells us why in this wonderful book.

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