There will be hundreds of commemorations and tributes written about Ernie Banks in the coming days, and he deserves every last one of them. His death on Friday, at the age of 83, hits hard for anyone who loves the Cubs and the game of baseball. His enthusiasm and love for the game cannot possibly be replaced.
But I’m also more than a little bit sad today at the thought of Ernie Banks’ passing. He had to die, as all of us will do some day. But his death happened before he was able to see, as Eddie Vedder put it in a song that Ernie Banks inspired, the Cubs “go all the way” and finally win a World Series title.
Back in the summer of 2013, Ernie Banks was welcomed onstage at the Pearl Jam concert at Wrigley Field. And just a couple of days after this happened, actor Dennis Farina died at the age of 69. Farina was a Cubs fan, to the point that he took time away from making movies to appear in Joe Mantegna’s play Bleacher Bums in 1989.
As I pondered what it must have been like for Farina to go to his grave without a World Series win for his favorite team, I thought about the Cubs and their rebuild under Theo Epstein. Back in the summer of 2013, we were being told that competitive baseball on the north side of Chicago was still a few years away. I wondered then, and I still wonder today, how many Cubs fans aren’t going to be here when “Next Year ” finally arrives.
Harold Ramis, another lifelong Cubs fan, met with the same fate in 2014, and now Ernie Banks has too, in the early days of 2015. There’s no telling how many other Cubs fans, most of whose names you will never know, have met with a similar fate. When you write off an entire season–or three, in the case of the current Cubs front office–you’re essentially telling an undetermined number of fans “Sorry, but you won’t get there with the rest of us.”
Finally, at long last, the Cubs have started to make some player and manager acquisitions that could make them into winners on the field. The Sporting News has bought into it, Anthony Rizzo has promised a division title, which is a good down payment. But many Cubs fans aren’t yet sold on this team for 2015. Perhaps I shouldn’t be, either, but I’ll be damned if I’m ever going to expect another fruitless season.
My time on earth is limited too, and I’m going to be pretty ticked off if one of my dying thoughts is “The Cubs never got there, did they?” Whether Ernie Banks thought that, I can’t say for certain. But right now every Cubs fan over the age of 40 is tracking their own mortality against the Cubs’ development as a winner, and hoping that the latter arrives before the former.
From here on out I’m treating every baseball season as my last, because one day it will be. And I don’t have any patience for long-range projections about 2016 and beyond, either.
To paraphrase Jim Morrison, I want the World (Series), and I want it now. It’s too late to do Ernie Banks, Harold Ramis, and Dennis Farina any good, but I want to see it once before I go. And every other living Cubs fan probably feels the same way. We’ve waited long enough, already.