A college baseball player whose batting average was lower than his grade point average, Columbus, Indiana, ophthalmologist Doug Wilson channeled his passion for the sport to writing about the iconic players he admired in his youth.
Doug Wilson's latest, "Let's Play Two: The Life and Times of Ernie Banks," tells the story of the first African-American to play for the Chicago Cubs.
Recruited from the Kansas City Monarchs and raised in a segregated community in Texas, Banks was always positive and had a good word to say about everything. These characteristics often led to people underestimating the man who would become known as “Mr. Cub.”
“People couldn’t see beyond his optimistic outlook and took him to be naïve and have a simplistic outlook on life,” Wilson says.
“But Banks was a very deep thinker; he’s someone who overcame a lot of obstacles but never said anything bad about people. If reporters asked him about someone who had said something negative about him, Banks would change things around so that he deflected the question without being rude.”
In the end, it was Banks' good-natured spirit that won the day, Wilson says, recounting the rocky relationship between Cubs' manager Leo Durocher and Banks.
“You couldn’t have come up with two different kind of guys,” Wilson says.
“Durocher — the title of his book, 'Nice Guys Finish Last,' says it all. Banks was the ultimate nice guy. Durocher hated Banks’s guts and tried everything he could to run him out of town, but there was no way P.K. Wrigley was going to let that happen.
"And all the time Durocher was trying to get rid of him, Banks just smiled. When Durocher would talk to reporters about how Banks was ruining the Cubs, they’d run to him and ask him about that, and Banks would just say, 'Leo Durocher is the best manager ever.' He always took the high road.”
Wilson's previous books include, "Fred Hutchinson and the 1964 Cincinnati Reds"; "The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych," which was selected by the Library of Michigan as a Michigan Notable book for 2014; "Brooks: The Biography of Brooks Robinson"; and "Pudge: The Biography of Carlton Fisk."
Wilson says he not only read every interview he could find with Banks dating back to 1950 as well as endless newspaper accounts and books, he also was able to locate several friends from Banks’s youth, including those who knew him when was 7 years old and another who played ball with him in high school.
“I also found three guys who played with Ernie in the Negro League when he was with the Kansas City Monarchs,” says Wilson. “They said he was shy around people. But his persona changed after he became comfortable in Chicago.”
By interviewing friends from his boyhood, Wilson says it helped him see how overwhelming it must have been to be confined to segregated schools and neighborhoods, and the challenges Banks faced in becoming a player at a time when African-Americans were just beginning to be allowed to play in the major league. Amazingly, Banks would be honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a place in the Hall of Fame.
“Years later, Leo Durocher had a change of heart, perhaps surgically induced, in 1983 a very contrite 78-year-old Leo, recovering from a recent open heart procedure, perhaps seeing his own mortality at last, spoke at a Cubs reunion and tearfully apologized to the team in general and Ernie Banks specifically for how he had behaved,” Wilson writes.
In other words, “Ernie won,” Wilson says.
What: Doug Wilson has several book events in the Chicago area.
When & Where: 2 p.m. Feb. 16 at Anderson’s Bookshop, 5112 Main St., Downers Grove, Illinois. This event is free and open to the public. To join the signing line, purchase the author’s latest book, from Anderson's Bookshop. Call Anderson's Bookshop Downers Grove, 630-963-2665.
When & Where: 6 p.m. March 2 at the Book Cellar, 4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. Free. (773) 293-2665.
For more information, visit dougwilsonbaseball.blogspot.com/