MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Legal battle does Banks a disservice

Legal battle does Banks a disservice

Farewells don't come much finer than the one to honor Ernie Banks. His memorial service was a splendid affair in a grand church on Chicago's Michigan Avenue. A joyful chorus sang while Hall of Fame players and other old friends paid respects to a wonderful man whose life surpassed imagination. And Banks deserved every bit of it.

He doesn't deserve what's happening now, with the people who were dearest to him battling not just over his inheritance but even over what to do with his body, which had essentially lain in state for eight hours on Jan. 30 at the Fourth Presbyterian Church.

All throughout that cold, snowy Friday, a stream of people who had been touched by Mr. Cub entered a side door of the church and paraded in front of his casket. It was draped with a white, pinstriped flag bearing Banks' No. 14 and a large photo of Banks from his prime, when his regal, confident bearing and sparkling eyes seemed timeless.

A United States senator and Chicago's mayor were among the thousands who paid their respects. Former teammates such as Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Glenn Beckett, George Altman, Jose Cardenal and Randy Hundley not only walked past their old friend, but they stopped to sit for long periods of time in the front pews.

Ferguson Jenkins on Ernie Banks

They didn't just feel proud to know him. They felt blessed.

And not for the 512 home runs he hit in a career that followed summers spent picking cotton with his father outside of Dallas. Not for being a part of the best Cubs team since World War II.

They knew the work and the back story and they respected him for it. They worshiped him because of the man he was, for the love he sent toward almost everyone who crossed his path. He deserved it for that perpetual smile and the dream that would never die -- that no matter what happened today, good or bad, tomorrow would be better.

Along with his role as a pioneer, both in terms of his impact in integrating the National League and in bringing races together in Chicago, those were the qualities that led him to the White House in 2013, to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. That was why Chicagoans who had watched Banks play or had raised their families near him showed up with the grandchildren beside them, because they wanted them to have a chance to be in his presence.

Jerry and Joey Banks on father

At the memorial service, Banks was extremely well remembered by a long line of old friends, with Joe Torre, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Banks' twin sons, Joey and Jerry, all contributing to a terrific tribute. Afterward, with news helicopters providing overhead coverage, the funeral procession left the church and headed north. The hearse circled Wrigley Field as well as it could amid the ongoing construction, while men and women awaiting it on corners bowed their heads or fought back tears.

But once that final victory lap was completed, a dangerous question presented itself: What next?

There were no plans for burial announced, nor details about an interment of ashes.

It turns out that Banks' family was too divided to agree on what his final instructions were.

It's unclear where this story, suddenly almost too sad for words, is going from here.

Banks was married four times, most recently in 1997 to Liz. They were estranged in recent years, with her living in their home in the seaside community of Marina del Rey, in Los Angeles, while Banks spent much of his time in Chicago, with caretaker Regina Rice. Banks reportedly filed for divorce in 2012 but the proceeding had not been finalized.

There are multiple wills and multiple claims to an estate that could be sizable. We don't know how big it is, but without those specifics, let's just agree it's big enough.

Split it up, shake hands and move on. Please.

Rice has said Banks wanted to be cremated. Chicago Tribune reporter Fred Mitchell remembers Banks telling him exactly that a few decades back, adding that he wanted his ashes to be sprinkled on the ivy at Wrigley Field.

That sounds right to me.

The rest of this stuff? It's the last thing in the world that Banks would have wanted.

He deserves better.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.