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Great player, great man, Chicago Cub forever Ernie Banks dies

Broke Chicago Cubs color barrier

Six seasons after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, on Sept. 17, 1953, Banks became the first black player to play for the Cubs. The shortstop was a slick fielder who wielded a powerful bat and is one of the best to play his position in the history of MLB. His presence brought warmth and joy to his teammates during his career and to the Cubs organization and supporters throughout his retirement.

“Words cannot express how important Ernie Banks will always be to the Chicago Cubs, the city of Chicago and Major League Baseball,” team chairman Tom Ricketts said. “He was one of the greatest players of all time. He was a pioneer in the Major Leagues. And more importantly, he was the warmest and most sincere person I’ve ever known.

“Approachable, ever optimistic and kind hearted, Ernie Banks is and always will be Mr. Cub,” he added. “My family and I grieve the loss of such a great and good-hearted man, but we look forward to celebrating Ernie’s life in the days ahead.”

Banks: Awarded Medal of Freedom

Banks came out of the old Negro Leagues at the age of 22 in 1953 and played his entire 19-year major league career as a Chicago Cub. His career numbers are impressive: 2528 games played, 2583 hits, 512 home runs (22nd all-time) 1,636 RBI and a lifetime batting average of .274.

Mr. Cub was known for the phrase “It’s a beautiful day, let’s play two” he and his Cubs never won the World Series — the franchise hasn’t won it since 1908 — but he didn’t allowed it to dampen his enthusiasm for his team, his city, the game of baseball and life. While an all-star player, he will be remembered as much for that as for his accomplishments on the field.

In 2013 U.S. President Barack Obama awarded Banks the country’s highest civilian medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Obama was thrilled to meet Banks but maybe not as thrilled as the baseball great was to meet his country’s President. “I handed the president a bat that belonged to Jackie Robinson,” Banks was to tell Sports Illustrated about the meeting. “The president held the bat in his hands. That was a thrill!”

Ernie Banks was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, his first year on the ballot.

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