I was thrilled the other day to read that my childhood hero, Ernie Banks, is among those who will be receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, though I'm not sure about the rules for being eligible for the honor.
But I was astonished and disappointed that in the story The Kansas City Star carried on Friday, Ernie's name was not even included. The paper, instead, published a truncated list of recipients. Good heavens, don't my former editors know that Ernie matters more than a lot of others on the list? Harrumph.
Still, news of Ernie's honor got me to thinking about heroes and heroines, if the feminine form of the word still is in use these days.
As a boy growing up northwest of Chicago, I became a fan of the Cubs, and although outfielder Hank Sauer was my first hero, he soon retired or left the team and my allegiance quickly went to the phenomenal young shortstop, Ernie Banks.
Ernie came to the Major Leagues in September 1953 and played 10 games, hitting .314. I still have his rookie Topps baseball card from 1954 (shown here, though I found this image on the Internet and it's not a copy of my card, which is in a safe deposit box with my other cards). He played 19 seasons and is in the Hall of Fame.
But none of that, in the end, was why I have been so attached to Banks over the years. Rather, it was because of the content of his character. For instance, when Ernie was hitting his stride with the Cubs, he came to my hometown once or twice to help raise funds for the Woodstock (Illinois) Children's Home, where orphans lived, some of whom were my classmates.
Ernie did stuff like that a lot. He didn't have to, but he knew that giving back to the people who watched him play baseball was an important duty.
And Ernie demonstrated daily a winsome personality, one that taught lots of people how to go through life with charm and equanimity, with humility and humor. He wasn't stuck on himself. He wasn't, shall we say, an Alex Rodriguez. Ernie lived out the kind of values that I was being taught in Presbyterian Sunday school.
I hope my grandchildren have role models like Ernie to emulate. Oh, wait. I guess it's part of my job as grandfather to be one of them.
(By the way, Ernie was on CNN's "State of the Union" show yesterday, as was documentary maker Ken Burns, talking about the future of baseball. For that, click here.)
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THE POPE AND ISLAM
As Ramadan ended, Pope Francis sent greetings to Muslims around the world. That's exactly the spirit of courtesy and hospitality the great religions need to demonstrate. It doesn't mean he is promoting Islam or buying its theology. It means he recognizes Muslims as devout humans who also seek to follow God. Perfect.