January 29, 2015 5:49 AM EST

Ernie Banks would famously say, “It’s a beautiful day for a ball game … let’s play two.” And I’d tell him, “Ernie, we just played a doubleheader. Nobody wants to play anymore! We’re all tired!” Then we’d all just laugh.

No one loved baseball more than Ernie. And anyone who knew Ernie could never hate him. We played together on barnstorming teams around the country, and you saw up close how much people loved him.

He gave the fans what they wanted. He’d hit it a long way in batting practice and would sign autographs. He always had that smile. I never saw him sad, ever. I’m sure it bothered him that as great as he was, he never got to play in a postseason game. But I never heard him talk about it.

He was such a terrific fastball hitter, and although his arm was so-so at shortstop, he’d always get you out. When you talk about Ernie’s impact in baseball, you have to start with what he meant to Chicago. At the Hall of Fame every year, Ernie would show up a little late. We’d always tease him about that. “Here comes Mr. Cub! Mr. Cub has finally arrived!”

Ernie loved that name. He’ll always be Mr. Cub.

Mays is a Hall of Fame center fielder who played for the San Francisco Giants

This appears in the February 09, 2015 issue of TIME.

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