day 14: mr. sunshine

Today is 14 days, which is two weeks of the omer: malchut she’big’vurah.

My preferences in ballplayers come together today in an athlete who is both a native Texan and a career-long member of one team: Chicago Cubs infielder Ernie Banks grew up in Dallas and came to baseball in the last days of the Negro Leagues, where he was discovered by the Kansas City Monarchs, possibly even by the team’s most famous player, Cool Papa Bell (whom we’ll get to later in this project).

Even on truly terrible Cubs teams, Banks was the two-time NL MVP (and the first consecutive pick, in 1958 and 1959). He led the league in HRs and RBIs twice. He established records for most homers in a season by a shortstop (47 in 1958) and fewest errors (12) and best fielding percentage (.958) by a short stop in 1959. He finished his career with more than 1,600 RBIs, which was 13th on the all-time list.

How-Ernie-Banks-Earned-Respect-159185177He earned one of his nicknames because of the ever-cheerful persona he created for himself, but he lit up the team in more ways than one. As the Sports Illustrated profile written right after his death in 2015 posited, “Decades passed before there would be lights at Wrigley Field, but during Ernie Banks’ playing days with the Chicago Cubs, there was no doubt who took center stage and whose light shined the brightest when he took the field.”

The unfinished-autobiography-turned-biography Let’s Play Two, released last year, presents a more nuanced view of the man than his sunny demeanor ever did, including the fact that — no doubt related to his position as the club’s first black player — he was woefully underpaid his entire career. (The book also reveals that he was apparently related to O.J. Simpson, which makes now twice that I’ve mentioned the football-star-turned-murderer in this project, which, I have say, I was not expecting.) Banks never spoke publicly about the treatment he no doubt endured as a black man in a white world, as Jackie Robinson did at first — with good reason: When he was outspoken about the civil rights movement, Robinson was pilloried as “uppity,” and Banks must have seen that.

Rabbi Art Green notes about malchut, today’s sefirah (also called shekhinah):

The Zohar compares shekhinah to the holy Sabbath, a day on which no manna fell in the wilderness and when no productive work is allowed, but the day that is the source of blessing for all the others. Were it not for the blessings sent forth by shekhinah, the life-force flowing through the upper channels could never come to fruition.

Even more than for his athletic prowess, Banks was beloved for being a source of blessing and joy for long-suffering Cubs fans. He never made it to the World Series (perhaps the most basic “productive work” of a baseball player) — and the franchise itself wouldn’t make it until 45 years after he retired, when the Cubbies beat the Indians in a 4-3 series in 2016. Banks died in 2015. But even while his fans couldn’t, Banks believed; for the fans it was, “Maybe next year!” but for Banks it was, “Maybe this year!”

“It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame,” Mr. Cub always said. “Let’s play two.” Today, let’s count two [weeks], in honor of this blessing of a person and power hitter.

featured image: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

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