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updated: 8/14/2013 12:12 AM

Mr. Cub never short on niceness

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  • Ernie Banks waves to the crowd before the Cubs' game against the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night. Mr. Cub is among 16 people President Obama will honor later this year with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

    Ernie Banks waves to the crowd before the Cubs' game against the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night. Mr. Cub is among 16 people President Obama will honor later this year with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
    Associated Press

  • Video: Ernie Banks on his amazing week


Taken out of context, a line in Dallas Green's recent book had the potential to outrage Cubs fans.

"I even had to give Cubs legend Ernie Banks his walking papers in 1982," the club's former general manager wrote.

Now, Green had the reputation of being gruff, and he had to be while trying to change the Cubs' hapless fortunes.

When Green assumed control of baseball operations, the Cubs' drought without a World Series championship had stretched to 74 years on the way to its current 105.

Green initiated what the marketing department dubbed "A New Tradition" by flushing dead weight from the organization.

Babe Ruth was quoted as saying in a movie about his life, "Sue baseball? That's like suing the church." A Cubs fan might say, "Fire Ernie? That's like firing the pope."

Banks was Mr. Cub back then, still is today at 82 and always will be. When kings die there's a new king. When Mr. Cub dies, he'll still be Mr. Cub.

So for Dallas Green to admit in 2013 for all to read that he fired Ernie Banks in 1982, well, the audacity of the man.

My goodness, Green is talking about a man who was honored Tuesday night at Wrigley Field for receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

Who fires a person that is on his way to some day receiving that award? Who fires a person whose professed ambition still is to win the Nobel Peace Prize? Who fires a person known as Mr. Cub?

People my age remember growing up with Ernie Banks as the Cubs' shortstop/first baseman and two-time MVP of the National League.

Younger people might not know much about Mr. Cub, but a good guess is that their fathers and grandfathers told them about him.

The youngsters would learn that Banks was one of the most prominent among the earliest wave of black players in the major leagues.

They would learn that Banks hit 512 home runs when that was a significant number and that he was in a Hall of Fame category with contemporaries such as Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson and Roberto Clemente.

Finally, they would learn that Banks was one of the game's great ambassadors who helped make breaking the color barrier go more smoothly.

That being Ernie Banks, how does even a Dallas Green with a difficult job to do dismiss that guy.

OK, now it's time for the rest of the story.

"This was sensitive stuff," Green went on to write of the firing, "because Ernie is so revered in Chicago, and rightfully so. I loved Ernie as a player and as a person. Heck, I thought so highly of him that I made sure we retired his number soon after I got to Chicago. He is Mr. Cub, after all."

The question stands: So how, or more to the point why, do you fire a guy like Ernie Banks?

Because Mr. Cub is too nice a guy, that's why.

What a terrible thing to say about someone, huh?

The Cubs would book Mr. Cub to attend events, he would agree on his own to attend others, and conflicts made it impossible to attend all of them.

Good intentions evolved into bad feelings, and eventually Green felt compelled to fire Banks.

"Like I said," Green wrote, "Ernie is one of the nicest people you'll ever run across. But, (bleep), he just couldn't say no."

So Mr. Cub could be the only person whose niceness led to him both being fired and receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

A nice trade-off when it's put into context, isn't it?

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