Mr. Club?

Times Staff Writer

He is the unofficial greeter for Chicago, so to paraphrase Ernie Banks, there is only one thing to say as the U.S. Open comes to this Chicago suburb for the first time since 1928 -- 20 years after the Cubs’ last World Series title.

Let’s play 72! Banks may be the most famous Cub ever, and that’s in addition to another of his unofficial jobs as Major League Baseball’s foremost goodwill ambassador. Banks, 72, voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1977, splits his time between Chicago and Marina del Rey and runs his own investment company, but he has other interests.

This week, Banks is changing his work lineup. He is going to be filling yet a third unofficial post -- U.S. Open groupie.

It is a task he undertakes with typical exuberance.

“This is huge for Chicago, it’s a monumental event,” said Banks, an avid fan of professional golf and a regular in the gallery at PGA Tour events in Southern California. “There’s going to be tremendous excitement. I’m just getting goose bumps right now. And it’s in our own backyard. The U.S. Open, oh, my gosh, it takes a tremendous plan and strategy to win it. It takes a lot of guts and a lot of nerves.”

It also takes a lot of players a lot of years to find out they’ll never win it, which is sort of what happened to Banks and the Cubs and the World Series. He never played in one, even though he hit 512 home runs, won two most-valuable-player awards and stayed with the Cubs from September 1953 until December 1971.


Banks knows about persevering through tough times in baseball and that alone should make him an excellent analyst, not only on the U.S. Open, which requires the same traits, but on the players.

Banks believes there are similarities between today’s leading players at the U.S. Open and the baseball stars he played against.

With the U.S. Open showing up, basically, on his doorstep, leave it to Mr. Cub to offer a unique comparison.

Tiger Woods-Willie Mays

“Tiger, just like Willie, he’s got all the tools. And [he] makes doing extraordinary things look easy at the same time. It goes far beyond playing ability too. Their minds, their fire, their determination are so similar. Willie was the Tiger Woods of his generation. [He] could do such spectacular things that amazed all the rest of us. It’ll just stretch your imagination. Winning the U.S. Open by 15 shots? How about Willie hitting four home runs in one game? Amazing feats by amazingly similar athletes, in my opinion.”

Phil Mickelson-Ted Williams

“They put a shift on Ted, and Ted simply refused to hit to left field. He pulled the ball to right field. Well, Phil has the same streak. He refuses to throttle down. He’s going to go all out. Ted Williams, he’d still hit the ball through the infield or over the fence against a shift. Or go down trying, like the ’46 World Series when he fought against that shift by the Cardinals and hit .200. And they’re both scientific in their approaches to the game, real students. Phil hasn’t won any majors, but he has got a philosophy, and he’s not backing down or changing, just like Ted.”

Ernie Els-Willie McCovey

“The Big Easy and Willie Mac, now those are a couple of sluggers I’d want on my team. Willie would swing at that ball and boom, there it went in a hurry. Like a bullet. Probably out of the park. Ernie hits that little ball a lot like Willie hit a baseball. Such a swing, and then it disappears almost faster than you can put your eyes on it. Both of them are big fellas, not saying a lot, just standing up there swinging, taking their hacks.”

Davis Love III-Nolan Ryan

“Davis just plays. That’s what Nolan Ryan did. He just pitched. Nolan wasn’t just dominating and powerful when he was on, he had so much ability. Like Davis, they both started their careers young and they’re both so, well, professional. Real pros, the strong, silent types. People probably say about both of them that they should have won more often. As for personalities, Nolan never took anything from anybody and Davis is the same. Pretty impressive.”

Mike Weir-Rod Carew

“I call it ‘the It.’ Know what ‘the It’ is? Well, these two guys got ‘It.’ Guts, determination, heart, always battling. Tough, maybe not physically imposing guys, they just have so much fire. Seems like they had to prove something to somebody, not necessarily that they belonged, but that they had the stuff to be judged on a bigger stage and to succeed. And when it was their turn to close the deal, they could do it. Never let ‘em see you sweat, that’s also ‘It.’ ”

Sergio Garcia-Roberto Clemente

“To say the least, Sergio’s got an unorthodox setup, swing too, maybe, and so did Clemente. A pitcher could throw a ball over his head and he’d hit a line drive to right field. Man, could he hit! Sergio can really knock it out there, with power. He’s flashy, charismatic. Clemente was like that. He’d make an underhanded catch or run out from underneath his cap. Sergio’s got the looks, Clemente had the looks. Natural stuff, you can’t just invent, that’s these guys.”

Retief Goosen-Ron Santo

“I remember when I hit my 500th home run, Ron got the hit to win the game. That’s what Retief will do. You’re all talking about somebody else doing something big and getting all the glory and he’s out there slamming the ball and putting up numbers and winning the game. Ron was a threat to hit it out at any time. Retief is a factor in every major now. He hits the ball a long way and it doesn’t even look like he’s trying.”

Vijay Singh-Orlando Cepeda

“You talk about hard workers, these two guys are that way. Dependable, consistent, capable of hitting rockets. What I liked about Orlando is that once he got on the field, he’s really into the game. Nothing rattled him. His mind, amazing. Vijay is the same. His mind never wanders, he’s focused on the job. Every time at bat, Orlando was really in there mentally. All he wanted to do was win ... and beat you. That’s Vijay.”

David Toms-Brooks Robinson

“Brooks was so quiet and unassuming. One year, he was hitting close to .400 in June and he didn’t say anything. Certain players just go along, then you look around and say, ‘Doggone it, he’s good.’ That’s David. You talk about a guy who’s capable of putting up big numbers in big events and sort of sneaking up on everybody. Brooks always made the plays, made the terrific ones look routine. And David Toms does that. Soon or later, you marvel at how he does it so quietly.”

Padraig Harrington-Ken Griffey Jr.

“I remember at one All-Star game, at the home-run-hitting contest, Ken didn’t even want to do it. And he won, easily. Padraig comes off sometimes as something along the same lines. He looks like he doesn’t care, he’s just out there hitting balls, then suddenly something comes over him and he’s amazing. Like Griffey, whatever personality they might be showing us, they can turn on a dime, rise above it, and win.”