Banks connected generations of Cubs fans -- and members of my family

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Some memories remain crystal clear even decades later.


That’s how it is for me and the time I met Ernie Banks.


I was a young boy with my dad at Wrigley Field. We were walking along the concourse on the third base side of the ballpark when my dad spotted him --  Mr. Cub.


“There’s Ernie Banks,” my father said.


That’s all he needed to say. Perhaps the greatest Cub ever was in our midst. I took off to see him for myself.


I never saw Ernie play. I was 6 years old when he retired in 1971. But I knew who he was, what he had accomplished. He was the face of the organization even in retirement when he served as a team ambassador.


Excited fans gathered around him seeking autographs and photos. Others just wanted to get a glance of Mr. Cub or shake his hand. He was happy to accommodate everyone with a cheerful greeting and a smile on his face.


“Don’t forget me, Ernie,” I said, worried that he would wrap up the meet-and-greet before I got to shake his hand and get an autograph. He assured me he wasn’t going anywhere.


I met Banks in the early 1970s, not long after he retired. He was wearing a burnt orange, fitted shirt, and I distinctly remember how muscular his arms appeared. He was not an especially big man, but he was strong and had a beautiful swing. The result was 512 home runs over 18 seasons long before steroids tainted the game.


Years later, my dad would recall the time we saw Ernie Banks at Wrigley Field. My father, after all, did see Ernie play and provide many of the highlights during some awful Cub seasons.


My wife met Ernie and got an autograph when she worked at Carson’s downtown store. My son met Ernie when he showed for a round of golf at Beverly Country Club. My son, a caddy, brought home an autographed Cubs cap. What a wonderful keepsake.


It seems like everyone met Ernie or has an Ernie story. That’s because he was always out and about, happy to greet fans and admirers. He was well aware of what he meant to Cubs fans. His optimism is a big part of why we keep the faith, hopeful that one day the Cubs can win the ultimate prize.


My wife woke me up Friday night to tell me Banks had died. I was shocked and saddened. It’s almost as though we don’t expect iconic figures like Banks to ever pass away. Banks is woven into the fabric of the Cubs, connecting one generation of fans to the next.


But rest assured, his memory will live on. When young fans ask their fathers about the foul pole banner that bears Banks’ name, they’ll be told about a Hall of Famer, a great Cub and, most importantly, a man who was ever-optimistic despite the racial injustices he faced during the early part of the his career.


My son wears an Anthony Rizzo jersey. Rizzo is the Cubs power hitting first baseman, who stands in the very spot on the field where Banks once stood.


The youngest player to win the Branch Rickey Award “as a strong role model for young people” Rizzo is the face of today’s Cubs. He is the leader of a team that hopes to accomplish what Banks’ teams could not. Who knows how we will recall his career.


It is unfair to compare Rizzo or any modern-day player to Banks. But Rizzo made some rather confident statements recently, saying the Cubs would win the division in 2015.


Banks would convey his optimism with pithy little phrases like “The Cubs will shine in ’69.” But I’m sure he loved Rizzo’s bold remarks.


Rizzo sounded more like Chicago architect Daniel Burnham. “Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.”


But the next time Rizzo hits a home run at Wrigley Field, he should point at Banks’ retired number as he rounds the bases to honor a man who played for the love of the game, the fans and Wrigley Field.


The night Banks died, Rizzo tweeted: “Mr. Cub. What you have done for the game of baseball, the city of Chicago and everyone you have ever touched will never be forgotten. RIP.”

Above the tweet is sketch of Harry Caray opening the gates of heaven and Ron Santo placing his arm around Banks shoulder. Touching stuff.

RIP Mr. Banks. You will be missed.


Sorry, Mary, breaking rules and cheating are same

  • Written by Bob Rakow

If I ever commit adultery and my wife finds out, I plan to tell her that I didn’t cheat, I merely broke the rules. There is, after all, a difference.


Just ask Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell.


I’m not so sure my wife would see the distinction. Chances are I’d be in big trouble if I stepped out on her—I mean broke the marital vows that we took in 1991.


Mitchell’s Feb. 11 column came the same day that Little League International rightly stripped the Jackie Robinson West baseball team of its U.S. championship for violating boundary rules.


I’m not surprised that Mitchell defended JRW. She’s a black columnist who often writes about the social injustices faced by African Americans. She’s written many good columns over the years and raised issues that deserved attention.


But hard as I try, I can’t get my head around Mitchell’s contention that there’s a difference between cheating and breaking the rules.


It’s the same thing. You are a cheater if you break the rules. Students cheat on tests, people cheat on their taxes. They cheat when they break the rules set forth by a school, the government and so on.


Later in her column, Mitchell switched gears and opined about the severity of the infractions committed by JRW.


She writes: “Maybe I’m missing the seriousness of the accusations, but is that all there is? We’re not talking about corked bats, or a 14-year-old pretending to be 11?”

I’d argue that placing a ringer on a team is on par with manipulating geographic boundaries. Either infraction is designed to give a team an unfair advantage.

I spent several years watching my son play youth baseball and came to understand that some players—the ones that play on All-Star and travel teams—are immensely more talented than other boys the same age. Put enough top-tier players on one team, and there’s a good chance they’ll go places.

That’s what JRW did, but Mitchell justifies the move.

“We’re talking about officials making adjustments to ensure kids who have played together for most of their young lives got a shot at going to the Little League World Series — together,” Mitchell continues.

Two words caught my eye: “making adjustments.”

Baseball teams make adjustments when they alter the batting order or bench one player in favor of another. Recruiting top players from other communities is not “making an adjustment.”

As far as corked bats, Mary, Little Leaguers use aluminum ones.

Mitchell added that stories about the JRW controversy cast black families in the worst possible light.

Here, I agree. Any coach or parent involved in this controversy or who stood by and said nothing is complicit. Shame on them for bringing a win-at-all-costs approach to Little League baseball.

“I don’t advocate that people break the rules, even when rules seem unnecessary or unfair,” Mitchell wrote.

I’m sure she doesn’t support rule breaking, but if fudging league boundary lines to gain an advantage isn’t cheating then what is? I’d love to hear Mitchell’s thoughts on how best to organize a baseball league in which the competition is fair and balanced and the formation of super teams is disallowed.


The Reporter has kept a close eye on this story because officials from the Evergreen Park Athletic Association first raised the allegations. It should be noted that the Evergreen Park team played JRW last year and never stood a chance.

EPAA officials said that game had nothing to do with the decision to bring the boundary violation issue to the attention of Little League International. I tend to believe them.

Chris Janes, vice president of the league, told me there were whispers of cheating for a long time, but no one wanted to burst the bubble on the feel-good story that was JRW’s Little League World Series run.

Janes refused to be silent and has received death threats as a result.

This controversy eventually will go away and Little League players will be back on the field soon enough. But don’t let Mary Mitchell or anyone else tell you the JRW boys are still champs. They’re not. They got caught up in something not of their own making. Rules were broken and now consequences are being paid.

Chicago Teacher’s Union President Karen Lewis had this to say about the decision after noting that it was made during Black History Month.

“I do not respect the decision of Little League International because the officials have not respected the ethical and emotional well-being of the children involved in this matter,” Lewis said.

Lewis’ comments should have been directed at JRW coaches because in the end they’re to blame.


Simpler times when garbage can lids had meaning

  • Written by Ray Hanania

Hanania-GrapevineElections have changed a lot over the years. These days, it’s about representation, equality and fairness.
But there was a time when it was all about garbage can lids.
I grew up on Chicago’s Southeast Side when Daley’s Democratic Machine had the city in its first headlock.
You really didn’t hear much from the politicians, and most people wanted to stay away from them, until election time. That’s when the precinct captains, usually a neighbor you knew, would come by and ask you to commit your vote to “our” candidate. It was really “his” candidate, but he was “our” friend.
Back then, we didn’t scream about skyrocketing crime and violence. The “murder rate” didn’t exist. We were just happy to live where we lived.
Who locked their front door?
But there was one problem.
Garbage can lids.
We had a cement trash bin that was popular in the 1940s and 1950s. The waste haulers had to shovel the trash from the cement bin into the truck. It was a lot of work.
But sometime in the 1960s, someone came up with a new invention. The galvanized garbage can. They weren’t painted. They were just silver. And there was nothing more important than the lid, which as it turns out, was stolen, a lot.
Who stole the garbage can lids?
I’m not sure. My dad always suspected it might be the precinct captains.
What I mean is the garbage can lid in the 1960s was a lot like the T-Top panels popular in the late 1980s on Camaros. The two glass T-Tops would always get stolen, and you would have to go to the auto dealership to buy replacements, which ran about $600. Who benefited from that arrangement? The car dealers, who we always suspected of stealing them so they could re-sell them.
And that brings me back to the garbage can lids. My dad was convinced the precinct captains stole the garbage can lids. He noticed that lids were often stolen from the homes that voted, or were in the voter rolls.
Because just before every election, the precinct captain would come by, knock on our door, ask us to vote for “our” candidate, and then promise to get us a new garbage can lid.
How did he know?
Eventually, they cement-paved our alley and removed the now unused cement garbage bins. And, we forgot about the garbage can lids. Who needed garbage covers anyway?
Of course, at about the same time that garbage can lids became a non-essential item of sanitation or vote bribery, we noticed an increase in crime, something similar to what is sweeping Chicagoland today. I’m just saying.
Every time I hear about a series of street gang related killings over a weekend, it makes me think back to the 1960s, when all we cared about were garbage can lids at election time.
The only thing that came close to replacing a garbage can lid during an election that I can remember was in the 1970s, when John Fary was the congressman representing the Southwest Side. Fary, who was a decent guy, would hand out little replicas of “toilets.” His way of reminding you that his name was “John.”
I wonder what would happen today if precinct captains went around handing out garbage can lids or little toy toilets to voters?
These days, I guess, we’ve come to expect a little more.
Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Penalizing all teens is not the answer for mall woes

  • Written by Bob Rakow

My daughter was at Chicago Ridge Mall a few Saturdays ago buying a dress and other essentials for her school’s sophomore dance.


She invited me to come along, but I didn’t feel much like a trip to the mall, so my wife dropped her and a friend off, and I picked them up a few hours later.


It was, from what I gathered, a successful trip. The girls both were excited that they’d found what they needed for the big dance.


I have no doubt that they comported themselves appropriately while at the shopping center and did absolutely nothing to disrupt anyone else’s shopping experience.


They were there, after all, with a purpose: to find dresses, shoes and accessories for a high school dance. They may have bumped into some friends, stopped in the food court for a bite to eat, but that’s about it.


They don’t view the mall as a place to linger, pop in and out of stores for no reason and cause trouble. They were raised better than that.


But last weekend, the mall implemented its new youth supervision policy, which prohibits teens 17 and under from entering the mall after 5 p.m. unless accompanied by an adult. 


The restriction comes a few months after a melee at the mall, prompted by a fight in the food court, which escalated when some patrons thought that shots were fired.


They weren’t, but that’s beside the point.


For a brief period during one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year, things got out of control at Chicago Ridge Mall as customers ran in every direction, and police from several departments responded to restore order.


Similar incidents occurred at others malls across the country that weekend, leading many to believe that some organized effort took place to wreak havoc in shopping centers. The Chicago Ridge police chief doesn’t believe the ruckus was the result of a flash mob, but you never know.


So now there’s a policy in place to keep unaccompanied teens out of the mall on Fridays and Saturdays after 5 p.m. Mall officials say the new policy is not in response to the December incident.


Either way, I hate the idea.


And I don’t think teens like my daughter and her friends are too wild about it either.  I don’t blame them. What did they do? Why are they being penalized?


It’s interesting. Many of these teens’ names can be found on high school honor rolls. They are involved at their schools as members of clubs or athletic teams. Some have the driver’s licenses needed to get to the mall, but they can’t enter the mall alone.


I understand that the mall needed to do something, and hiring off-duty Chicago Ridge police officers to work with mall security is a great start. Ratcheting up the security and law enforcement presence and making arrests when necessary will send the clear message that the mall means business.


Additionally, keeping a close eye on teens deemed to be troublemakers, recording any incidents in which they are involved would be a worthy step. The mall is private property and officials can ask anyone to leave. I’m sure security knows who the agitators are. The bullies, the shoplifters, the miscreants who have no idea how to behave in public.


Lean on them. Show them the door.


But the mall decided, instead, to punish all teens by telling them can’t come to shopping center unescorted on Friday and Saturday nights. True, they’re not banned, but how many teens want to spend time at the mall under the watchful eye of their mother or father? I suppose the job could fall to an older brother or sister, but I’m thinking most of them have better things to do on a weekend evening.


Which raises another point. What’s to say trouble or a fight at the mall can’t happen before 5 p.m.? I don’t know much about mall attendance trends, but I’ll bet a fair amount of unescorted teens will be at the mall during the afternoon.


The mall was given a tough assignment: maintain a pleasant shopping experience while preventing troublesome incidents that lead to bad publicity and drive customers away.


Restricting every teen under 18 years old is not the way to achieve that goal.





When life knocks you down, carry yourself in an upbeat manner

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-ColorHe said he wants a divorce.
When I first heard the word “divorce,” I thought for sure it was an exaggeration.
Shanett Coleman of Chicago has been one of my best friends since I relocated from Terre Haute, Indiana nearly 20 years ago.
She’s known for being a drama queen.
And yes, one might argue we’re cut from the same cloth. However, upon hearing her husband, of then five years was leaving, I quickly commented, “He’s not leaving. You just had a baby. He wouldn’t! Your marriage is just going through the normal adjustment of having an infant.”
She cleared her throat and retorted, “Is it also normal for him to commit adultery?!”
Shortly thereafter, to my surprise he did leave. With her cup half denial and the other half hope, she never filed for divorce.
Over the following five years, I listened as she cried and complained of how life dealt her a bad hand. And, she wasn’t receptive to being consoled by me. I was a constant reminder of what she’d lost. My husband was present and actively involved in the lives of our children. “How could you possibly know what I’m going through?” she’d ask me with disdain.
I lacked compassion.
I wanted her to, get over it!
So, our friendship went on sabbatical.
She was always in my thoughts even during our time apart, I’d refer to her as one of my best friends. After two years, by divine intervention, we were reunited.
“What’ve you been up to?” I asked with enthusiasm as I met her vibrant smile and warm hello in our local Sam’s Club.
“I’ve been putting all my energy into the Lord and my son.” she replied as she further explained it was his seventh birthday and she was picking up his cake. We exchanged information and resumed our friendship, just as if we’d never been apart.
We spent morning after morning catching up on the previous two years. She was still married, to an estranged husband.
“Still?” I said, trying not to sound judgmental but totally failing.
“I know. I know. But, I told the Lord, I’m ready now. I’m letting go.” she said, desperate for my buy-in.
This time, I believed her.
Something was different and I wasn’t the only one who noticed.
One day, while on her job of 11 years, one of the executive directors walked by. His superior position left little interaction between them. Nonetheless, this day he stopped her. “I’d like to do something nice for you. May I?” he asked.
Not one for turning down a freebie she interjected, “Sure, what would that be?”
She said she thought he wanted to buy the office staff lunch.
He responded with, “My wife and I would like to buy you a car.”
Shanett had been driving a raggedy ol’ beat up Acura.  The engine hadn’t stopped but I can’t say the same for the stereo, air conditioning and heat.
As a single parent, she’d chosen to forgo repairs to allow her son privileges she otherwise couldn’t afford. She said she wanted to compensate for the absence of his dad.
So, diligently she worked, many nights overtime so her son could swim and play chess, soccer and violin.
This executive didn’t know her financial situation.
Nor did he know she was a single parent.
All he knew was she worked in his firm and drove a car that clanked through the parking garage with a smile on her face. In the office, she was courteous, respectful and always there. He was a man with the means to be a blessing and she happened to be his targeted recipient. Within a few weeks of his offer, she was driving a gently-used, metallic silver, Honda Accord.
She was humbled to tears. She wrote him a letter of gratitude.
“I’ve worked for this firm 11 years,’’ she wrote in a portion of the letter. “This company has afforded me the opportunity to provide my son with a good life. I admire the culture of my workplace. The pleasant environment and opportunities to advance are what keep me loyal. I also appreciate this company’s initiative to give back through work programs like the one recently started for underprivileged inner-city children.
“I’ve modeled my personal life after some of the values I’ve seen displayed here. My son and I volunteer for organizations every holiday so that we too can do our part to give back. Working here has definitely increased my quality of life. From the ability to attend Broadway plays to luxury dining and even the professional ball games, I’ve been exposed to a life I would ordinarily not be able to afford. I earn a decent wage but being a single parent is hard. I make sacrifices. One being to continue to drive a car that needed to be replaced. You provided a gift I never expected and couldn’t have possibly earned. I believe your act of kindness is God’s grace and favor over my life. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your generosity, may it be returned to you with the same measure.”
This man’s act of generosity refueled Shanett, several months later, she received a pay increase, accompanied by a promotion. This is a great reminder that we should be mindful of our attitude regardless of our circumstance.  
Ask yourself, “Do I present myself in a way that would cause someone to desire to bless me?”
You never know whose paying attention.
Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author, runner whose columns appear the second and fourth Thursdays for the Reporter.