A while back we received a query from a fellow librarian at the College Baseball Hall of Fame who hoped to acquire several Teachers College dissertations. I learned of the existence of this unique organization, a central point for the study of the history of American college baseball, located way out in Lubbock , Texas — as it happened, “the largest contiguous cotton growing region in the world.” When looking for The History of Intercollegiate Baseball, by Harold H. Wolf (1962), I discovered a curious mixture of resources in our historical archive, reflective of the depth and breadth of research characteristic to our institution’s history — a mini collection of some 66 titles which interwove the “silent films of Buster Keaton,” the “role of American Negroes,” “government in Olympics”, an All-American girls’ baseball league, Liberian folk tales, best teaching practices, and much more. Baseball figured in doctoral dissertations as early as 1936 with Wilbur A. Yauch’s, Study of the Possibilities for Educational Leadership of an Elementary School Principal, a Leadership Built on the Concept of Democracy: A Report on a Project, and as late as 1991, with Michael A. Simon’s, Baseball Batting Slumps: An Exploration into Mental and Emotional Dimensions.
Naturally I started reminiscing. The first major league baseball game I ever attended featured my home team, the Chicago Cubs, against the Boston Red Sox, the spotlight on Ernie Banks in one of his last games at Wrigley Field. My best friend and I sat high up in the bleachers, with eagle eye views of third base one baking Saturday afternoon. I was too young to understand all the intricacies of our national pastime, but I grasped the electrifying moment when this most famous of shortstops gracefully stepped up to the plate. There was the distinctive hush of the crowd, fueled by respect and reverence as he took position. Then the pitch, a little low, but met with uncompromising strength, speed, agility. Banks swung and delivered the distinctive crack of the bat, landing another homer far in the stands over left field while spectators jumped ecstatically to their feet. Very close to achieving a record of 512 home runs during his 19 year career with the Cubs, Ernie sailed through the field like a smooth schooner on a green glass sea.
My older brother’s best joke at that time was simply, “Ernie Banks,” and I then knew why. Banks proved that the “riches of the game are in the thrills, not in the money.”
Even more telling of Ernie’s cheerful personality and love for baseball was his signature saying, “Let’s play, Two!” Play he did. Ernie Banks played for the Cubs from 1953-1971, was chosen to play for the All Stars 11 times; was twice voted National League’s most valuable player, received the Gold Glove award in 1960, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.
At home I recently reached up into the living room bookcase and hauled down The Baseball Encyclopedia (MacMillan), a heavy, slightly dusty tome covering 2,781 pages of baseball history — the “granddaddy of all sports reference books” with enough statistics to make you delightfully dizzy. There are twelve sections, plus three appendices, including a brief history of baseball, special achievements, all time leaders, player register, Negro League, and All-Star Games. The eighth edition (1989) was a gift to my husband, an alternating Mets and Yankees fan, who never belittled the game as British “rounders” or a variation of cricket, but who appreciated baseball for what it was. I checked the pages, assured that Ernie Banks figured there.
<!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]–>