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August 13, 2013

Ernie "Mr. Club" Banks
Ernie "Mr. Cub"  Banks in his playing days.

Ernie Banks Was the First Black Player to Sign with the Chicago Cubs

Ernie Banks, who is known as "Mr. Cub," for his lifetime affiliation with Major League Baseball's Chicago Cubs, signed with team in 1953, becoming the Cubs' first African-American player.

Banks joined the Cubs from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues, after signing with the team in 1950.

He initially played shortstop before switching to first base. As shortstop, Banks' double-play partner was Gene Baker, who played second base and was the second black player signed by the Cubs. Banks and Baker were the first all-black double play combination in Major League Baseball history.

Banks played his entire Major League Baseball career with the Cubs from 1953 to 1971, when he retired.

In 1977, his first year of eligibility, baseball writers elected him to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. One sportscaster said that without Banks the Cubs would finish in Albuquerque.

Now the 82 year-old Banks now has another honor.

President Barack Obama on Thursday named Banks one of 16 recipients of the 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom. Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy established the medal of freedom as the nation's highest civilian honor for men and women who have dedicated their lives to enriching the lives of others.

"Known to many as "Mr. Cub," Ernie Banks is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. During his 19 seasons with the Chicago Cubs, he played in 11 All-Star Games, hit over 500 home runs, and became the first National League player to win Most Valuable Player honors back-to-back," President Obama said.   

Other 2013 recipients include Dean Smith, head basketball coach of the University of North Carolina from 1961 to 1997 and Sally Ride, the first American woman, the first LGBT astronaut and the youngest person to fly in space. She died in 2012 of pancreatic cancer. Ride's medal will be awarded posthumously.

Banks' favorite phrase was "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame…Let's play two!"

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