Davey Whitney remembers Ernie Banks

Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Dave Whitney well remembers Baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks.

After all, Whitney was supposed to be the “next Ernie Banks.”

Indeed, Whitney took Banks’ place at shortstop in the Kansas City Monarchs lineup when the Chicago Cubs signed Banks away from the Negro League Monarchs.

Banks, who died Friday, went on to belt 512 career home runs and become a 14-time National League All-Star .

Whitney?

He became a basketball coach instead.

In 1954 Whitney and the Monarchs played a game against the Chicago American Giants at Wrigley Field. Banks, by then with the Cubs, went to Wrigley to watch his old teammates. Buck O’Neil, the Monarchs manger, asked Banks to counsel his successor.

“I was one of two college graduates in the entire Negro Leagues at the time,” Whitney said. “Lots of players resented that. I got spiked. They threw at my head.”

Banks’ advice?

“He told me to stay cool,” Whitney said. “He told me to play my game, stay under control.”

Banks, Whitney said, couldn’t have been nicer.

“He was very reserved, quiet really,” Whitney said. “Between the lines he was a fierce competitor, but off the field he was really quiet.”

O’Neil, the famous Negro League player and manager, often compared Whitney to Banks.

“Lot of people did back then,” Whitney said. “I thought I was headed for the Major Leagues on a fast train.”

A two-year Army hitch slowed that train down. When Whitney re-joined the Monarchs he was certain the club was about to sell his contract to a Major League team.

“Of course I wouldn’t have seen any of that money,” Whitney said.

Fact is, the money in the Major Leagues wasn’t that good at the time, especially for African Americans. Whitney, who had graduated from Kentucky State, knew he wanted to coach eventually.

When a Clarksville, Tenn., high school basketball coach died following the 1954 baseball season, Clarksville offered Whitney the job.

Dave Whitney, promising baseball player, became Dave Whitney, coach.

He never went back to full-time baseball, even though he played semi-pro ball to supplement his coach’s salary.

While Banks went on to hit those 512 home runs, Whitney went on to win 566 games as a college basketball coach.

That coaching success hasn’t stopped Whitney, who now lives in Biloxi, from thinking what might have been had he stayed in baseball.

Said Whitney, “Don’t get me wrong. I have no regrets, but I really do believe I would have played in the Major Leagues. I always believed that.”

Instead of becoming the next Ernie Banks, he became Dave Whitney, coaching legend.

 

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