U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) hosted a reception for Chicago Cubs Legend Ernie Banks, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom today for his efforts on and off the field. The Medal of Freedom is the highest award given to civilians in the United States.
WASHINGTON, DC –(ENEWSPF)—January 26, 2015. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) spoke on the Senate Floor today to honor Chicago Cubs legend and baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, who passed away last Friday night at the age of 83. In 2013, Banks received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the White House, the highest honor given to civilians in the United States.
Banks was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977. He was the first African-American baseball player to play for the Cubs, playing all 19 of his seasons with the organization. During his career, Banks won back-to back MVP awards in 1958 and 1959, hit 512 home runs, had 2,583 hits, 1,636 runs batted in and a career batting average of .274.
Durbin’s speech, as prepared for delivery, is available below:
U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin — Remarks on the Passing of Ernie Banks, January 26, 2015
Last week, America lost a hero and Chicago lost one of its greatest ambassadors – Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks passed away.
Known as “Mr. Cub,” his infectious love for the game of baseball was matched only by his passion for the people of Chicago.
A Hall of Famer in every sense of the word, he won the hearts of every Cubs fan with his power hitting and Golden Glove performances on the field.
And he endeared himself to every Chicagoan with his humble approach to the game and his lifelong commitment to our city.
Before Hall of Famer Ernie Banks became “Mr. Cub,” he was 17 years old and playing sandlot ball in Dallas.
This is where Cool Papa Bell discovered him and later signed him to play for the Kansas City Monarchs for $7 a game.
While playing for the Monarchs, Ernie was managed by Buck O’Neil.
Playing for the Negro League legend had a profound effect on young Ernie. Buck had so much love for everybody that Ernie modeled his life after him.
It was with the Monarchs that Ernie learned to play with boundless energy and enthusiasm.
He learned to express his joy for the game and took to heart the message his manager Buck O’Neil would often shout at him. “You gotta love this game to play it!”
Ernie Banks loved the game and it showed.
Years later, O’Neil reunited with Ernie when he agreed to manage the Cubs in 1962. He was the first African American manger in Major League Baseball.
As one of the first wave of African American baseball players, Ernie Banks helped break down the color barrier in Major League Baseball.
The Hall of Fame slugger and two-time MVP made his major league debut at Wrigley Field in 1953 — and became the first African American player to suit up for the Cubs.
A slender 180 pounds, he wasn’t the most intimidating batter at the plate, but he had powerful wrists generating tremendous bat speed. He whipped the bat through the ball, hitting 512 home runs, 2,583 hits, 1,636 runs batted in and a career batting average of .274.
From 1955-1960, he was the most prolific home run hitter in the game, hitting more than either Hank Aaron, Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle during those years.
And in 1958 and 1959, he was named the most valuable player in the National League, the first to ever win the award in consecutive years.
He was also the first player to have his jersey number retired by the Cubs, and on game days his number 14 flies from the left-field foul pole at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.
Not surprisingly, he was inducted into Cooperstown the first year he was eligible.
But it wasn’t the numbers on the back of the baseball card that made “Mr. Cub” a beloved member of the community, it was his passion for the game and the appreciation he showed to everyone he encountered.
Over the last several days, I have heard from baseball fans sharing their stories of meeting “Mr. Cub.”
Nearly all were humbled by the opportunity to meet their hero, but even more impressed to find that Ernie was just as appreciative of his fans as they were of him.
It’s an understatement to say that the Chicago Cubs had some tough seasons during Ernie’s 19 year career. They hadn’t won a World Series since 1908 or National League title since 1945.
But every day, win or lose, Ernie would lace up his cleats and step out on to the field smiling for the whole world to see.
You couldn’t help but love watching him play.
And for Ernie, the eternal optimist, he always believed this year was going to be the Cubs year.
Every spring, he predicted the Cubs would win the pennant.
He never played in the postseason.
But his love of the game never wavered and despite the losing seasons – he became famous for his contagiously positive attitude.
He often remarked that, “It’s a great day for baseball. Let’s play two.”
That was the charm of “Mr. Cub.”
An 11 time All-Star…first ballot Hall of Famer…selected to baseball’s All-Century team in 1999, it was never about accolades or money for Ernie.
He played for the pure joy of the game.
After hitting his 500th home run, becoming only the 9th player to achieve the feat, he summed up his feelings by saying, “The riches of the game are in the thrills, not the money.”
What an inspiring message.
In 2013, I called the White House and asked President Obama to consider a Medal of Freedom for Ernie Banks.
I felt that his impressive career with the Cubs and his courage in breaking down the color barrier in baseball were reason enough.
But more than these amazing achievements, Ernie’s spirit set him apart.
It was a special moment at the White House when Ernie Banks received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
I was honored to see and experience it.
After being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, we held a reception for him in my office.
I don’t know if there have ever been so many humbled politicians in my office looking for an autograph.
And Ernie couldn’t have been more gracious with his time, signing autographs for all the members of Congress that showed up.
Ernie made time for everyone that came through my door that day.
That’s what made Ernie “Mr. Cub.”
The North Side of Chicago and Wrigley Field won’t be the same without Ernie Banks.
“Let’s play two” will echo off the bricks and ivy for generations to come.
His positive, hopeful, Cub view of life filled every room and every baseball diamond he ever touched.
And now it would seem that they need to find a new roster spot on the Field of Dreams – and everyone better be ready for daytime double headers. Let’s Play Two.
Ernie Banks, your spirit, passion and sunny outlook will be missed.