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Mudville: July 19, 2024 7:23 am PDT

Joey Banks II

"He changed lives and that’s why he got the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award."

In his Hall of Fame speech, Ernie Banks referenced a saying that stuck with him in his life. It said, “Success is dependent upon not only the talent God gives you, but also upon the people who believe in you.”

Banks said that applied to his own career and if it wasn’t for the people who believed in him, he wouldn’t be standing at the Hall of Fame podium that day. He then thanked his parents for believing in him and his wife and children, who Banks said, “…gave me their love and enthusiasm for the game of baseball.”

His children were in Cooperstown that day and one of them, Joey Banks, joins us for Part II of a special two-part Spitballin’.

Last week we talked about growing up Banks as well as Joey’s own impressive career in baseball. This week, we’ll focus on his dad’s legacy with some incredible stories mixed in about Joey’s career in Hollywood.

Legacy can be a pretty heady and wide-ranging topic, especially for someone as accomplished as Ernie Banks, so how would you define Banks’ legacy?

Is it the back-to-back MVPs? The 512 home runs? His “let’s play two” quote? Is it the effervescent smile, positive attitude and serving as a beacon of light amidst so many losing seasons in Chicago? Is it simply just being Mr. Cub?

While all of those things are surely a large part of what fans will remember of Banks’ playing career, Joey Banks has a different idea of what his dad’s true legacy is.

And when you read some of the stories he shares below, you’d have a tough time arguing against it.

Ernie Banks is baseball royalty and at BallNine, we couldn’t be more thrilled to share stories about him from a perspective you won’t get anywhere else. So, join us today as we go Spitballin’ with Joey Banks.

Great to have you back to continue the discussion on your dad. Last week we looked at some of your memories of his career and your own personal experience growing up Banks. This week, we’ll examine your dad’s legacy and share some additional stories. I wanted to revisit one thing from last week first. You mentioned your dad was influenced greatly by Hall of Famer Buck O’Neil. Were there others who influenced your dad as a young player?

Jackie. They knew each other from the Monarchs. He and Buck O’Neil were the two who had the most influence on my dad. But it wasn’t something he talked about much. He wasn’t a guy who would say, “Come here son. Sit on my lap. What’s buggin’ you?” He was more the “What’s the matter? Why are you crying? It’ll get better.” He was one of those guys who wasn’t a coddler. He would say, “Give me a handshake! That’s not a handshake, give me a real one!” He wasn’t an “I love you” type of guy. He didn’t get that [in his own childhood]. There were too many siblings. My mom was like that. She was the one saying, “Take your key, take your jacket.” Where my dad would say, “He’ll be fine. He’ll figure it out.” He wasn’t a controlling dad. It was just the way he was.

It was a different generation of guys back then. Jumping ahead now to 2015. Your dad passed away in January of 2015 and the Cubs had you and your twin brother Jerry out to Wrigley to throw out the first pitch and sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame. What was that experience like?

They reached out to us to ask us about throwing out the first pitch and singing during the seventh inning stretch. It was in honor of dad because he had passed. We practiced signing the song. It was fine; I was a little nervous. You’re above everyone and the whole stadium is turned around looking at you. A lot of guys have done it and done it really, really bad. Some guys have been horrible! My dad had done it before, and he loved it. He was a showman. He would hold the mic out over the stands and get the fans involved. He’d go, “One, two…” then hold the mic out so there was that togetherness. Some people sing the whole song themselves.

My brother and I were next to each other. I had been around film for 40 years, so I wasn’t shy. Of course, we had three or four beers by the time the seventh inning rolled around, so we were feeling ok. We sounded like Harry Caray. But I’ve seen some pretty bad ones and I don’t think we did that bad.

“We start going up and Leslie starts working the hand farter. It was hysterical. My dad loved it. He was like, ‘Give me two of those!’ So, I had to go out and get my dad some hand farters.”

What about throwing out the first pitch? That’s gotta be nerve wracking too. Take us through your experience there.

Well, I had Fergie Jenkins with me on my side and my brother Jerry had Billy Williams. Billy said, “My money’s on Joey throwing a strike.” I was ready to go back to the rubber, but my brother wanted to throw from closer. We had to throw from the same place. I was kind of taking it all in, looking around and enjoying the moment. All of a sudden out of the corner of my eye I see my brother’s arm start to throw the pitch. I was like, “Oh, shit! We’re supposed to throw together! Where’s the one-two-three?” Even though we’re twins, we didn’t have the twin thing going on there. He threw and then I threw it just after him. It was an honor. Anytime I can represent my dad it’s an honor.

Do you get back to Chicago at all?

We went back for the memorial and the unveiling of my dad’s headstone at Graceland Cemetery. The Ricketts were there. Jed Hoyer, Ryne Sandberg and Billy Williams were there with probably about 25 people or so. That was the last time we were there.

Chicago Cubs' star shortstop Ernie Banks reads a story to his two-year-old twin sons, Joey (left) and Jerome, as they wait at the doctor's office to see the doctor for their regular checkup. Chicago, November 1, 1961.

Changing course here for a few questions. You have had an impressive career in Hollywood. Could I ask a few questions about that?

Sure! I did stunts from 1985-1990. I worked a lot from 1990-1999. A lot of times my dad would ask me what I was doing. I’d say I was doing a high fall or something and he’d say, “Just be careful.” He wasn’t one who would talk me out of doing things I was doing. He gave his two cents and let me find my way.

I can say for sure you’re the first Hollywood stuntman I have interviewed. I read that you worked on Naked Gun. I have to ask about your experience there. How did you get involved with that movie?

I had already done Brewster’s Millions before that. I was the second baseman in that movie. That’s how I got out of baseball. I was in between seasons and came back from Australia. I had dinner with a woman and she told me that there was going to be a spinoff of Hill Street Blues called Bay City. They needed ballplayers to be in the scenes as background playing baseball. Brewster’s Millions came up and they needed a second baseman. Myself, Steve Benson who had played with Houston, Gary Mathews who played with San Francisco. Tom Paciorek’s brother Mike was the tall first base type. That was the infield.

By the time Naked Gun was in production, I had worked on several jobs already as a tech. I knew some real good ballplayers in the business who had their SAG cards, so I put a team together. I called Paramount and asked to speak to the production office for Naked Gun and they put me in touch with Bob Weiss. I asked him if he needed a tech advisor to run the authenticity of the baseball scenes. He asked to see any articles of my work or my resume and of course, I had none. But I said yes anyway.

And you were an actor in the movie too and a part of some of the memorable baseball scenes. How awesome. Do you have any good Leslie Nielsen stories?

Of course. Well, Leslie Nielsen had a hand farter he carried around. It was a rubber cylinder that had holes on both sides and once it gets broken in, you squeeze it and you get, “plft, plft plft.” It sounded just like a fart. He could really work the hand farter. He could do short ones or long ones and make them all drawn out. It was like a trumpet. One day my dad came to visit, and we were going to have lunch in the loge section at Dodger Stadium. We ended up getting in the elevator with Leslie and Ricardo Montalban. We start going up and Leslie starts working the hand farter. It was hysterical. My dad loved it. He was like, “Give me two of those!” So, I had to go out and get my dad some hand farters.

Leslie was a down-to-Earth guy. The Zucker brothers were off the wall, but that’s their deal. If you’ve seen the movie, a player gets in a rundown and then the umpires get involved in the scene. The breakdown of it was four pages. Joe West was one of the umpires actually – and we had oxygen there for him and Leslie, just in case. We were at Dodger Stadium for five weeks and it was quite an experience. I’ve been very lucky to be involved in things like that.

That’s so amazing. What an awesome movie to have acted in and worked on. Just a couple more questions about your dad and his legacy as we wrap things up. Your dad had such a positive impact and was a hero to so many people. He still is today. Could you talk a little about the connection your dad had with the fans?

I have so many stories. My dad was the first Black Ford dealer in the United States. Phillip Wrigley helped him get the dealership cosigned and bought the first car. My dad brought home a red Mustang in 1969 when it came out. It was an amazing convertible and it had a fire engine siren because it was red. It was the coolest thing ever as a kid. My dad would turn that siren on and the kids in the neighborhood would come running to wash his car. That was their signal to come wash the car. He would pay them and then tell them not to join gangs, go to school and to listen to their parents.

We were in a bar at the Westin in 2008. There was a guy who was at the bar who looked like he didn’t belong there, but they weren’t kicking him out. He had a hand that was a little deformed from a stroke. That guy was one of those kids. My dad had told him not to join the gangs and to go to school. He had become a fiber optics professor at the University of Illinois and was now retired. That’s a guy my father encouraged to stay in school, and he had become a college professor. My dad’s legacy to me isn’t on the field. It’s not the home runs or five grand slams in one season. Those are his on-field accomplishments. But I think in life, his legacy is people and what he did for a lot of people. He was always a company man and he’ll always be a Cub.

It’s awesome to think that someone who is as legendary as your dad was so down-to-Earth. I can’t imagine how many people have stories like that guy just because of your dad.  

There are so many of them. At the Hall of Fame ceremony, we ran into a guy named Mike Mangold when we went out drinking. We didn’t know him, just met him at the bar, He came to the ceremony and didn’t have a place to stay. He was just a fan and planning on staying in his car. My father heard about this and told him he wasn’t staying in his car; he could stay in the bed and breakfast with us. Mike Mangold found me on Facebook years later and is still a friend.

This has been so incredibly fun and such an honor. I really appreciate you being so generous with your time and stories. Our readers and I are lucky to have heard them. One last question before we go.

I don’t know if it can be summed up, but what do you think of your dad’s place in history as one of the greatest and most beloved baseball players of all time? A true Chicago legend. From your perspective, what’s your dad’s legacy?

I think his legacy was his strength through all of the problems and losing. His strength through Leo Durocher being an asshole. His knee being hurt and having to get it drained, but never complaining. He would call and say, “How do you feel?” Yet his knee would be the size of a basketball. He always had that upbeat personality even though he might not have felt like it. He was an amazing guy and so consistent. Dad never showed any of those accolades in the way he carried himself. He’d win a ballgame, but he wouldn’t come home and act like he won a ballgame. You couldn’t tell whether he won or lost. He compartmentalized it all.

He was always great to people. He changed lives and that’s why he got the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award. I still hear it today. He would meet someone in an airport and say, “Don’t quit.” Then that person would meet me at some point and say, “I met your dad in the airport, he told me not to quit and I still won’t quit to this day.” He effected a lot of people that he didn’t know. He had such a presence. That’s his legacy to me; it’s a personal one between him and so many people whose paths he crossed with in his life.

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book was released in April of 2021.

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