Usually I don’t do this.
See, when I watch Sunday Night Baseball, I go in with two assumptions:
1. that Jon Miller is going to exaggerate the pronunciation of every Latin player’s last name.
2. Joe Morgan is going to say something stupid.
And I just let those things roll off my back. But not this time. You see, last night Joe said something that was stupid, hurtful, and ridiculous. If you watched the game, you may recall that Kevin Youkliss hit a 1st inning home run into the basket that runs the length of the bleacher wall at Wrigley Field. The next inning, Miller and Morgan had a little discussion about the basket, it’s reason for being (to prevent fan interference, although it’s also been argued that it’s there to keep drunks from falling onto the field) and the merit (or lack of) of home runs that land in it. That was fine, but Morgan couldn’t resist this little dig at the end: “back when I played”, he told Miller, “we called that Banks’ boulevard”. Now we all know what’s being implied here by Morgan. That one of the most prodigious home run hitters of his time (and one of the greatest Cubs of all time) made his bones by hitting cheapies into the basket. For a second I thought it might be true. But then I did some looking and realized it probably wasn’t.
The reason I’m making a big deal of this is I was a history major. Like most, I inflate the importance of the subject I majored in, but this is important. History can be shaped and changed by whoever teaches it. It’s likely that some impressionable youth somewhere was watching that game, and said to himself “well, Joe Morgan is a Hall of Fame player and bad broadcaster with his own miniature suits and everything. He must be right! Ernie was nothing but a fraud, lofting over 500 flyballs into the Jet Stream that plunked safely into the basket”. Those are the people I’m writing this for.
You see, less than five minutes worth of research shows that this nickname is highly unlikely. The Cubs own website states that the basket was constructed prior to the 1970 season. A quick survey of baseball reference.com shows that Banks retired at the end of the 1971 season. During this period, Ernie hit exactly 15 of his 512 homeruns. Now, I never saw him play, but I’ve seen the tape of his 500th homer, which he hit in 1970, several thousand times during rain delay, and that one did not land in the basket. This means that out of a grand total of 512 homers, Banks could have hit no more than 14 of them into the basket, thus making it highly unlikely that this apparatus was given any sort of nickname on his behalf.
So, if you’re an impressionable young person and you’re reading this, please listen closely: if you ever see Joe Morgan on the street, you should feel free to throw rotting produce at him. And if your parents ask you why, just tell them it’s because Joe Morgan is an irresponsible broadcaster who denigrated Ernie Banks simply because he thought the phrase “Banks’ Boulevard” sounded cute. They might even join in.