Ernie Banks has been "Mr. Cub" for about 50 years. He made baseball's Hall of Fame in 1977. How could all of that be topped? How about "Mr. Cub," Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient? That's kind of a mouthful, but Banks earned the distinction at a White House ceremony Wednesday, when President Barack Obama personally presented him with the medal, which is the nation's highest civilian honor.
Via Twitter, Obama described Banks' ascent from prejudice and poverty to becoming one of the more celebrated ballplayers of the past 60 years. His is a terrific success story for any person, but it's especially so considering what it means to be black in the United States:
Obama: Ernie Banks "came up through the Negro Leagues making $7/day & became the 1st black player to suit up for the Cubs." #MedalOfFreedom
— White House Live (@WHLive) November 20, 2013
Obama, ever the Chicago White Sox fan, also managed to get in a dig at the Cubs — even though he tried to disguise it with respectful words. It comes at the :39 mark in the video above.
"In the process, Ernie became known as much for his 512 home runs as for his cheer and his optimism and his eternal faith that, someday, the Cubs would go all the way."
"And thats ... that's serious belief. That is something a White Sox fan like me can respect."
The Cubs never made the playoffs with Banks on the team, and it's been 105 years since they won the World Series. So it's not just Ernie. It's incredible that he always wanted to play doubleheaders. Obama's White Sox won the World Series in 2005, so he can coast. And, as the president, he can make jokes.
The 15-person list of recipients had other big names, including Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, astronaut Sally Ride, jazz legend Arturo Sandoval, college basketball coach Dean Smith, women's rights pioneer Gloria Steinem and iconic country singer Loretta Lynn.
President Harry S Truman created the award to recognize civilian service during World War II and John F. Kennedy established the current decoration in 1963. Here's the historic breakdown of who has won and here's what it's awarded for:
"An especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."
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