A new biography of Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks (1931-2015).
Sports journalist Rapoport (The Immortal Bobby: Bobby Jones and the Golden Age of Golf, 2005, etc.), who wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times for more than two decades, began his project as a collaborator with the baseball legend; however, after Banks died, the author decided to transform the intended autobiography into a biography. Banks is best known for his sterling play as a power-hitting shortstop, his nearly 20-year career with the hapless Chicago Cubs, and his eternally cheery outlook on baseball and life. Rapoport does not debunk the essential truths of those surface qualities, but he offers copious evidence that Banks was more complicated than most baseball fans know. Banks grew up as one of 12 children in Dallas, in a time of cruel racial segregation. Until he entered the Army in 1951 (he served in Germany during the Korean War) and then broke the color barrier on the Cubs two years later, he had no meaningful contact with open racism, leaving him deeply naïve about what he would face throughout his life. Intellectually curious and self-effacing, Banks may have lost his naiveté about racism, but he chose to avoid the crusader label. As a result, he faced a lifetime of puzzlement and occasional criticism for his refusal to speak out against segregation, especially from Chicagoans appalled by the virulent racism infecting the city. In his family life, Banks’ sunny disposition hid his eventual alienation from his parents, siblings, wives, and children. Despite the author’s periodic coverage of social issues, he devotes the bulk of the biography to baseball on the field and in the clubhouse. Dedicated baseball fans will appreciate Rapoport’s coverage of dozens of Cubs players, field managers, and executives, including the complicated Wrigley family owners. One of the book’s shortcomings is the author’s attempts to cram in too much information about seven decades of baseball, but that’s a minor quibble.
A refreshing sports biography that punctures common myths about one of baseball’s greats.