Today's high temperature might struggle to reach 3 degrees. Snow now qualifies for full-time residency. The sun has surrendered our sky to 50 shades of gray. The Bulls and Blackhawks hope to be playing their winter sports for another four months. Wrigley Field is a gaping wound under construction. The legacy of Cubs legend Ernie Banks is buried in probate court. And five little words give us hope.
"Pitchers and catchers report today."
All we need is a little mood music.
"Thanks Mister Banks" works for me, since it once hit the spot with Ernie Banks.
"Quite a thrill for me to watch my boyhood hero dancing to my song on one of the biggest radio stations in North America on Cubs Opening Day," remembers Arlington Heights resident Roger Bain, 66, who wrote "Thanks Mister Banks" in 1979 and was in the WGN radio booth for the opening of the 1979 baseball season when Roy Leonard spun Bain's record. "Ernie stood up and danced. He waved his arms and bopped around."
An advertising man, Bain has had songs heard in commercials for Dairy Queen, United Auto Insurance, Gloria Jean's Coffee, Berland's House of Tools and the Kane County Cougars. He's also written and performed humorous ditties such as "The Arlington Heights Song," "Suburban Dad" and his "What's Wrong with Being Bald and Wearing Glasses?" anthem. Most can be found on rogerdaybain.com.
Bain remembers baseball being an "obsession" during his boyhood in Clarendon Hills and his days at Hinsdale Township High School.
"We played some form of baseball after school when it was not freezing cold out, then all day long every day during summer vacation," Bain remembers. "We played street baseball with a tennis ball. Every kid in the neighborhood played, from the smallest to the least-coordinated. Even the nerds. Both genders. Baseball is what kids did."
And his favorite baseball player was Banks.
"Ernie was always the most special of ballplayers because of his enthusiasm," Bain says, noting that Banks' "Let's play two" mantra matched the spirit of all the kids in the neighborhood. "We didn't know his salary. Or where he lived. Or if he was married. We just knew he loved to play baseball. Like we did."
As a songwriting adult supplementing his music with work as a carpenter, Bain received a $6,000 workers' comp settlement after breaking his ankle in a van crash. His wife, Linda, who grew up in the shadow of Wrigley Field, suggested that money might be a nice down-payment on a house. Instead, Bain and his Barking Gecko bandmates (Mitch Rosenow, Jaisson Taylor and Ardys Blake) bought time at a professional studio to record Bain's "Thanks Mister Banks."
WGN's Leonard, who got a cassette tape copy of the song because Bain's father, Roger, was friends with a WGN cameraman, played "Thanks Mister Banks" on the radio and promised to play it again on Opening Day in 1979, when Banks and Ron Santo would be his guests. The always enthusiastic Banks called the song "disco," which it clearly wasn't, but Bain figures that was Banks' way of saying he liked it.
Using the catchphrase from TV's "American Bandstand," Santo gushed, "I'll give it a 98. You can dance to it!"
Just as those 1979 Cubs showed some promise before losing 22 games in September, including the last game to finish with a losing 80-82 record, Bain's "Thanks Mister Banks" also suffered a swoon.
"I always thought that song would have been a little more popular than it turned out to be," says Bain, who figures he sold a few hundred of the 10,000 vinyl 45s he had pressed. "I remember people saying, 'This song will be big when Ernie dies.'"
When Banks died last month a week before his 84th birthday, WXRT's Lin Brehmer gave "Thanks Mister Banks" a spin on the radio again, and the record was mentioned on Fox Sports. But Bain didn't seek publicity.
"It just felt crass trying to promote my record when he's the one who died," the songwriter says of his favorite Cub. "Now, I would enjoy people just hearing the song. It's not a novelty song. It's a song from the heart."