Tag Archives: ernie banks

Losses in 2015: Sports legends lost in 2015

The loss column is where to look in the standings. Those are the ones that can never be made up.

And losses, of a different kind, hit Philadelphia in 2015 with the deaths of two 76ers centers — backboard-busting Darryl Dawkins and Moses Malone, who gave basketball a math lesson with his playoff sweep prediction of “Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” that fell just short. Joining them was Dolph Schayes, the Syracuse Nationals center who briefly played for and coached Philadelphia in its Wilt Chamberlain days.

There were losses in baseball of Joaquin Andujar, Dean Chance, Darryl Hamilton, Tommy Hanson, Bill Monbouquette, Al Rosen. In hockey, the Islander coach Al Arbour and the great Canadiens winger Dickie Moore.

Losses of boxing champions Gene Fullmer and Bob Foster. And in football of Ken Stabler, quarterback of the renegade Raiders, and Garo Yepremian, whose slapstick field-goal attempt lives in Super Bowl lore.

Losses of those who cut a path for black players to follow: Minnie Minoso (baseball), Earl Lloyd (basketball), Pete Brown, Calvin Peete, Charlie Sifford (golf); and Mal Whitfield (track). And those while on the job: IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, struck by debris at Pocono and gone the next day at 37.

Other losses, lives that soared across the games:

ERNIE BANKS

Lots of players are in the Hall of Fame. How many bring a credo, a way of life, with them? “It’s a great day for baseball. Let’s play two.” Ernie Banks wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ernie Banks, with a whip-fast swing and sinewy wrists, played 19 seasons and hit 512 homers. He made 11 All-Star teams and was MVP in 1958 and 1959. He was a Gold Glove shortstop before switching to first base. And all this for the Chicago Cubs, who have long crafted the art of defeat.

But the stats don’t account for the statue of “Mr. Cub” outside Wrigley Field. Banks, who died at 83, spoke to the transcendent joys of sports. He never was ejected and never argued with umpires. Why stoop to such pettiness?

Banks also never made it to the postseason, but Hall of Famer Al Kaline reminds Cubs fans of this: “They can always say they got to see the great Ernie Banks.”

FRANK GIFFORD

His was the golden life.

The All-American USC running back with chiseled looks who became the face of the great New York Giant teams of the 1950s and ’60s and then rode another wave of celebrity in the “Monday Night Football” booth and as husband of TV host Kathie Lee Gifford.

Frank Gifford played in five NFL title games and was league MVP in 1956. Giants co-owner John Mara called him “the ultimate Giant.” In 1960, a pulverizing hit by the Eagles’ Chuck Bednarik (who also died this year, at 89) left Gifford with a head injury so severe he didn’t return until 1962.

For many, though, Gifford was the calming center of “Monday Night Football.” On one side of Gifford was Howard Cosell, all bombast and grandiloquence. On the other was Don Meredith, ladling out heaping servings of country corn. It was left to Gifford to return everyone to Planet Football.

Gifford died at 84 and his family said he showed signs of degenerative brain disease and hoped he “might be an inspiration for others suffering from this disease.”

DEAN SMITH

If college basketball had a Mount Rushmore, a place in the mountainside would be carved for Dean Smith.

He was the soul of basketball at North Carolina and he died at 83. He led the Tar Heels to 11 Final Fours, won national titles in 1982 and 1993. He created the Four Corners offense, earned an Olympic title in 1976 and coached some of the best. Michael Jordan said he loved Smith for always being there when he needed him.

Smith would surpass Adolph Rupp for the most coaching victories in men’s Division I, a mark now held by Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. Smith was among the first to recruit blacks in the South and helped spur the civil rights movement.

Roy Williams, the current Tar Heels coach, called Smith the “perfect picture of what a college coach should have been.”

JERRY TARKANIAN

He was a sketch artist’s dream: the basset-hound eyes, the bald head, the forlorn look and, of course, the towel clamped between his teeth.

Jerry Tarkanian built a basketball power at UNLV, a dazzling piece of the Strip’s high wattage. His legal entanglements with the NCAA spanned his career at Long Beach State, UNLV and Fresno State. Tarkanian long felt the NCAA pounced on small schools and let the big boys off easy.

He drew respect from coaches and love from players. But the NCAA sang no songs for “Tark the Shark.” He won a $2.5 million settlement in a lawsuit, but the sting remained.

Tarkanian preached fierce defense and an amped-up offense that at UNLV featured Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony. The Rebels played in four Final Fours and won the 1990 title.

Tarkanian died at 84, three days after Dean Smith, and Vegas dimmed its lights for a headline act.

YOGI BERRA

After all the tributes – his decency, his dignity, his wit (intentional or otherwise) – it’s important to never lose sight of this: What a player he was.

Yogi Berra played 19 seasons and was the American League MVP in 1951, 1954 and 1955. He played on 10 World Series winners and made 18 straight All-Star teams. His leap into Don Larsen’s arms after the perfect game in the 1956 World Series is a moment frozen in baseball history.

Berra, No. 8, with that welcoming mug of a face, died at 90. He managed for the whirlwind that was George Steinbrenner, and Berra always had the right thing to say. He was the country’s everyman philosopher, a pinch hitter for Mark Twain and Will Rogers: “You can observe a lot by watching”; “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”; “I really didn’t say everything I said.”

Said Hall of Famer Cal Ripken: “When Yogi spoke, everyone was quiet and hung on every word. He owned the room.”

Ernie Banks, sports stars back marriage equality in Illinois

Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks and other celebrated athletes have signed a letter endorsing marriage equality in Illinois. 

The House of Representatives is expected to vote soon on the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, which would legalize marriage for same-sex couples in the state while providing protections for religious freedom.

In a letter encouraging passage of the bill, which has already been approved in the senate and has the governor’s support, the athletes wrote that “treating any group of people as second-class citizens hurts us all, because discrimination is wrong no matter whom the target is.”

“We come from a variety of backgrounds, and we have played different sports for different teams. But one thing that binds us together is our belief in the importance of fairness and respect – in all aspects of life,” the letter stated. “In Illinois today, gay and lesbian couples who are in lifetime committed relationships do not have the freedom to marry. This violates our sense of fairness and respect. It also goes against the Golden Rule of treating others as you would like to be treated yourself.”

Signers, according to the coalition Illinois Unites for Marriage, include:

• Ernie Banks, “Mr. Cub,” who played as a shortstop and first baseman for the Chicago Cubs from 1953 through 1971. Banks was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977 and the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999. He also has participated in Chicago’s Pride parade.

• Richard Dent, who played defensive end for the Chicago Bears for 11 seasons. He was the MVP of Super Bowl XX and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.

• Hunter Hillenmeyer, who played linebacker for the Chicago Bears from 2003-2010.  Along with All-Pro linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, Hillenmeyer was part of a linebacking corps considered one of the best in the league.

• Brendon Ayanbadejo, who played for the Chicago Bears from 2005-2007. Ayanbadejo now plays linebacker for the Super Bowl XLVII champion Baltimore Ravens. A three-time NFL Pro-Bowler, Ayanbadejo was born in Chicago and lived in the Lathrop Homes as a child.

The athletes, in the letter, wrote, “As professional athletes, we always played for the love of the game.  The competition on the field – whether it was the football field or the baseball diamond – strengthened us and continues to do so,” the athletes stated in the open letter.  “But for that competition to take place, there have to be rules and a code of behavior. Above all, players have to treat each other with fairness and with respect.”

The support also comes at a time where every major newspaper serving Illinois has endorsed the marriage equality bill, including the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Daily Herald, the Peoria Journal Star, the Springfield Journal-Register,the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Quad City Times.

On the Web…

www.illinoisunites.org