By MARK KNUDSON @MarkKnudson41 Special to WoodyPaige.com
Bobby Johnson was a very good baseball player. As a catcher and first baseman, he played eight seasons in professional baseball, three of those with the Texas Rangers in the early 1980’s. Primarily a back up in the bigs, in three seasons he handled almost 500 chances and made just two errors, adding nine home runs.
He was never quite as good as his uncle, though. Of course, very very few have been. Johnson’s uncle was Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks.
“One of the things that pointed me toward baseball when I was really young was Ernie’s father, Eddie Banks,” Johnson recalled recently. “One of our highlights was when Ernie was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977…and I was drafted in 1977.”
“Mr. Cub” would call his nephew periodically to see how he was doing while Johnson worked his way up through the minor leagues. They’d get together when Johnson reached the big leagues and the Rangers visited the Windy City.
“We talked baseball. He kept me encouraged and going forward.” Johnson recalled. He remembered a trip through Chicago during his early minor league days when he stopped to visit with his uncle on his way to a minor league assignment in Wisconsin.
“We talked hitting for about two hours that day. When I got to Wausau I had one of my best years.” That season in 1979, Johnson was selected as Minor League Player of the Year for the Rangers organization. “I give Ernie a lot of credit for that because he really helped me with my swing.”
After Johnson retired and entered private business, the two men didn’t have as much contact. Banks was busy working for the Cubs organization, and Johnson starting out in the automobile business. But when the Hall of Famer passed away in January of 2015, it brought the entire family back together. After helping settle the family’s affairs related to Banks death, Johnson decided to create a monument – sort of an Ernie Banks mini-Museum – in the basement of his home. Now, after the Cubs ended a century old championship drought by winning the 2016 World Series, there’s one piece of memorabilia missing from Johnson’s shrine: A World Series Ring.
He has reached out to the team with a request, but hasn’t gotten past the lady that answers the phone at Wrigley Field. The effort to acquire the ring has gone stagnant. Unless someone is keeping it a secret from Johnson, no family member has received anything from the Cubs.
This request may sound like a stretch, asking for a World Series ring be posthumously awarded to the extended family of a man who was never a member of a title winning team. But this is Ernie Banks, after all. No single player or person has meant more to the Cubs franchise and probably never will.
And keep in mind; the Cubs recently gave Steve Bartman, the man vilified in Chicago for “interfering” with the team’s title quest back in 2003, a World Series Ring (the same ring award to staff members, not players.) The team brought Bartman back to Wrigley Field and handed him a ring while they gathered in the Owner’s office. Yes, Steve Bartman has a World Series Ring, and the family of Mr. Cub does not.
That certainly makes Johnson’s request seem much more reasonable, right?
“I have an Ernie Banks Memorial in my house,” Johnson notes. “I have all his memorabilia collected from all the family members.” When it’s pointed out that such a display placed strategically near Wrigley Field could be a nice little revenue generator for the family, Johnson paused. “I’ve never looked at if financially,” he chuckled. “I haven’t even thought about that. It’s very personal.”
A World Series Ring would be the cherry on top.
Johnson called the Cubs and reached a woman who he thinks was in charge of Public Relations. He got nowhere. “I’m not sure if I called the right people or not,” he confesses. “I’m certainly not wanting to give up on the effort.”