“Listen and learn!” I was reminded of this simple, yet powerful concept when I had the chance to meet baseball legend Ernie Banks several years ago. For those who don’t know him, he is “Mr. Cub.” He played for 19 years for one major league baseball team (Chicago Cubs), one owner, in one city, during one mayor, in one stadium, under one light – the sun. He is a member of the baseball Hall of Fame, The 500 Home Run Club and his number is retired from the Chicago Cubs and hangs on the foul pole in Wrigley Field.
Mr. Banks is well known for his optimism and positive spirit. It is said that he coined the phrase “Let’s play two.” A phrase he used every day there was a ball game to show his love for the game. It’s worth noting that he played only day baseball in Wrigley Field (under the July and August heat) and he never won a championship with the Cubs. (But then again, no one has since 1908.) Banks signed with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League in 1950 and broke into the Major Leagues in 1953 with the Chicago Cubs as their first African American player.
When I first met Mr. Banks, it was one of life’s little surprises. It came at a time that I had been pondering a concept I called “regret minimization.” The concept, simply stated, is doing those things in life that you think about but rarely, if ever, act on. That’s when this meeting opportunity came to me. And, I acted.
Mr. Banks came to a client meeting on a rooftop outside of Wrigley Field. I did not attend the business event, but was delighted in the stories that were shared with me about him. A week later, a colleague called me and said, “Hey, come meet Ernie Banks at 11 am Tuesday.” I did, and for that opportunity, and the subsequent encounters we had, I am grateful. I am wiser and more optimistic because of my relationship with Mr. Banks.
Why am I wiser? I learned many powerful lessons through many great stories. One of Mr. Banks’ lessons, in particular really stuck with me, even more so after I viewed the blockbuster movie “42.”
42, as you may know is the retired number of baseball great Jackie Robinson. Jackie was the first African American to break the all-white baseball barrier in 1947. The movie “42” does an excellent job of highlighting the absolute madness that Mr. Robinson encountered.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia in 1919 to a family of sharecroppers. His mother, Mallie Robinson, single-handedly raised Jackie and her four other children. They were the only African American family on their block, and the prejudice they encountered only strengthened their bond. From this humble beginning would grow the first baseball player to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier that segregated the sport for more than 50 years.
In 1945, Jackie played one season in the Negro Baseball League, traveling all over the Midwest with the Kansas City Monarchs. In 1947, Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey approached Jackie about joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Major Leagues had not had an African American player since 1889, when baseball became segregated. When Jackie first donned a Brooklyn Dodger uniform, he pioneered the integration of professional athletics in America. By breaking the color barrier in baseball, the nation’s preeminent sport, he courageously challenged the deeply rooted custom of racial segregation in both the North and the South.
At the end of Robinson’s rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he had become National League Rookie of the Year with 12 homers, a league-leading 29 steals, and a .297 average. In 1949, he was selected as the National League’s Most Valuable player of the Year and also won the batting title with a .342 average that same year. As a result of his great success, Jackie was eventually inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
So what did Mr. Banks tell me that I believe is helpful to us today? He shared with me what Jackie Robinson told him one day in 1953 when Jackie, while on a day off, visited Ernie at Wrigley Field in his rookie year. Jackie sought Ernie out and simply said, “Just listen and learn, Ernie.” I asked Ernie what he said back to Jackie. Ernie’s response? “Nothing, I just listened and learned.” What vision. What strength.
These words are so powerful. Perhaps if we desire more wisdom, better client relationships and greater production and results, we should “just listen and learn” more. Listen to our clients. Listen to our team members and get intentionally engaged in meaningful client relationships with purpose again. Just listen and learn – you may be pleasantly surprised by what you hear!
I consider it a great privilege and joy to have had the opportunity to meet this courageous, joyful man. That experience and memory will last my entire life.
Thank you Mr. Banks. Peace to your family at this time.
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