Ernie Banks, the greatest Chicago Cub in the team’s history, died of a heart attack late Friday evening at the age of 83. Spending 19 seasons with the same team, Banks earned the nickname “Mr. Cub” while architecting a Hall of Fame career that saw Banks, a shortstop with power in an era when such were few and far between, who would later move to first base, tallying 512 home runs and 1,636 runs batted in, earning 14 All-Star nods, and two MVP awards. Among the many mourning the loss of Chicago’s favorite son is a fellow Chicagoan in his own right, President Barack Obama.
President Obama awarded Banks the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013 citing his rise through the Negro Leagues making $7 per day to eventually become the first African-American player for the Cubbies, says Mark Townsend of Big League Stew.
“Michelle and I send our condolences to the family of Ernie Banks, and to every Chicaogoan and baseball fan who loved him.
“Ernie came up through the Negro Leagues, making $7/day. He became the first African-American to play for the Chicago Cubs, and the first number the team retired. Along the way, he became known as much for his 512 home runs and back-to-back National League MVPs as for his cheer, his optimism, and his love for the game. As a Hall-of-Famer, Ernie was an incredible ambassador for baseball, and for the city of Chicago. He was beloved by baseball fans everywhere, including Michelle, who, when she was a girl, used to sit with her dad and watch him play on TV. And in 2013, it was my honor to present Ernie with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“Somewhere, the sun is shining, the air is fresh, his team’s behind him, and Mr. Class — “Mr. Cub” — is ready to play two.”
President Obama’s last line harkens to Banks’ enthusiastic fervor toward the game of baseball whereby he would suggest that the conditions were nice enough to warrant playing a doubleheader, an occurrence where two teams play each other in two straight games, which is generally not looked toward fondly by the players who would exhaust themselves in the process.
In addition to being remembered as a baseball hero, Banks will be remembered as an American hero, having been drafted in the U.S. Army where Banks served during the Korean War. While enlisted, Banks played basketball part time with the famed Harlem Globetrotters. Upon being discharged two years into his military service, Banks finished the season with the Kansas City Monarchs before his contract was sold to the Cubs.
In 2008, a statue of Banks was unveiled in front of Wrigley Field just one year prior to Banks being named a Library of Congress Living Legend, a distinction bestowed upon those who have made significant contributions to America’s cultural, scientific, and social heritage.