I choose today to think of Ernie Banks, and “Let’s play two.”
For that is what he used to say, and what he’d prob’ly do
Again today if he were able. Maybe he’d play three…
For Ernie spoke of baseball with a fine, infectious glee.
Was Ernie Banks quite serious? I won’t presume to say.
I choose to think he loved the game he came to play each day,
And if my choice is stupid, addle-pated, blind and dumb,
Well, I’ll embrace it anyway. Let criticism come.
Let skeptics say I’m wearing blinders. Let them also crow
That in the days when Ernie Banks was playing in the show,
The players were all wage slaves, the reserve clause held them down…
The owners were conspirators, and in each baseball town,
The managers had quotas, and the Yankees always won,
And if you weren’t as white as snow, you had to hit a ton
To make a line-up in the bigs. And if you didn’t speak
Good English, the reporters would regard you as a freak,
And mock you in the papers, giggling like a lot of clods.
Look, all was hardly roses then. The players were no gods,
And I’m aware that now the rosters of each baseball team
Include a lot of fatheads. No offense is too extreme
For some of these entitled-feeling morons to embrace.
But now, as spring’s old ritual is elsewhere taking place,
I look out at the dirty snow that’s piled along the street,
And choose to think of what remains, what I regard as sweet
Despite the warts that mar the game, and much, I’ll grant is marred…
The records set most recently will all be likely starred
With asterisks forever, but the game is still the game,
And as I think about it, this will always be the same:
In sunshine shortstops slide and scoop the balls that old men hit,
As older men in sunhats and Hawaiian shirts still sit
And nudge each other, time to time, and mumble in a row
That some kid looks a little bit like Aparicio.
Or, when the batting practice starts, with coaches grooving strikes,
A man among the old men sees a hitter that he likes,
And as the hitter swings, his hat flies off and through a haze,
The old man smiles a little and remembers Willie Mays.
I’ll never say we shouldn’t hear the stories of the guys
Who’ve tried to beat the system and who’ve told a hundred lies…
The men who’ve hired P.R. flacks to teach them what to say,
The owners, who want stadiums for which we all should pay…
But baseball has survived the lot of liars, racists, thugs,
As well as drunks, dishonest owners, players who did drugs,
And then collusion, strikes and lockouts, gambling in the day,
And freezing nights in autumn when they shouldn’t have to play…
But still I choose today to think of what those cannot kill:
A game that has endured, and let us hope it always will.
This program aired on February 19, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.