REMEMBERING ERNIE BANKS; Congressional Record Vol. 161, No. 12
(Senate - January 26, 2015)

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[Pages S448-S449]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




                        REMEMBERING ERNIE BANKS

  Mr. DURBIN. Madam President, last week America lost a hero and 
Chicago lost one of its greatest. Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks passed 
away Friday night.
  He was known as Mr. Cub. His love for the game of baseball was 
matched only by his passion for the city of Chicago.
  He was a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word. He won the hearts 
of not just Cubs fans but baseball fans across the Nation with his 
power hitting and Golden Glove performances, and he endeared himself to 
everyone he ever met with his humble approach to the game of baseball 
and the game of life.

[[Page S449]]

  Before Hall of Famer Ernie Banks became Mr. Cub, he was 17 years old 
playing in a sandlot in Dallas, TX. That is where Cool Papa Bell, one 
of the legendary leaders in the Negro League, discovered this young man 
and signed him to play for the Kansas City Monarchs for $7 a game.
  While playing for the Monarchs, Ernie Banks was managed by another 
legend, Buck O'Neil.
  Playing for the Negro League legend had a profound impact on young 
Ernie Banks. Buck had so much love for everybody that Ernie decided to 
model 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 Buck O'Neil, the 
manager, would often shout at him: ``You gotta love this game to play 
it!'' Ernie Banks loved it, and it showed.
  Years later, O'Neil reunited with Ernie Banks when O'Neil agreed to 
manage the Cubs in 1962. Incidentally, he was the first African-
American manager in Major League Baseball.
  As one of the first African-American baseball players in the Major 
Leagues, Ernie Banks helped break down the color barriers. The Hall of 
Fame slugger and two-time MVP made his Major League debut at Wrigley 
Field in 1953, and he became the first African American to suit up for 
the Chicago Cubs.
  He was only 180 pounds. He was not the most intimidating batter at 
the plate, but he had powerful wrists that generated tremendous bat 
speed. He whipped the bat through the ball, hitting 512 home runs in 
his career, with 2,583 hits, 1,636 RBIs, and having a career batting 
average of .274.
  From 1955 to 1960, he was the most prolific home run hitter in the 
game, hitting more home runs than either Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, or 
Mickey Mantle during those years.
  In 1958 and 1959, he was named the most valuable player in the 
National League. He was the first ever to 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 proudly over the left field 
foul pole at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.
  Not surprisingly, Ernie Banks 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 Chicago and 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 is an understatement to say that the Chicago Cubs had some tough 
seasons during Ernie's 19-year career. The Cubs had not won a World 
Series since 1908 or a National League title since 1945. But every day, 
win or lose, Ernie would lace up his cleats, step on the field, and 
smile for the whole world to see. You could not help but love watching 
him play.
  And for Ernie Banks, the eternal optimist, he always believed this 
was going to be the year for the Cubs. Every spring he predicted, 
without fail, the Cubs were going to win the pennant.
  Well, Ernie never got to play in the post season. But his love of the 
game never wavered despite this. He became famous for his contagiously 
positive attitude. He often remarked: ``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 that feat, he summed up his feelings by saying: ``The riches of 
the game are in the thrills, not the money.'' That is an inspiring 
message.
  In 2013, I contacted some friends in 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 to be there at the White House when Ernie 
Banks received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I was honored to see 
it and experience it.
  After being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, we held a 
reception for him in my office up here. I don't know if there have ever 
been so many humbled politicians coming by my office looking for an 
autograph. He happened to sign this photo for me that day that I have 
in the Chamber. I remember Johnny Isakson from Georgia--a faithful 
Atlanta Braves fan--made a point of being there to meet Ernie Banks. 
And I remember Harry Reid, when he met Ernie Banks, said: ``I used to 
play a little baseball.'' Ernie Banks said to him: ``Well, Senator 
Reid, what position did you play?'' He said: ``I was a catcher.'' Ernie 
Banks said: ``If you were truly a catcher, get down in that catcher's 
position.'' Somehow or another, Harry Reid got down in that catcher's 
position right in my office to prove it to Ernie Banks.
  Ernie could not have been more gracious with his time, signing 
autographs for everybody who showed up. He made time for everybody.
  The North Side of Chicago and Wrigley Field will not be the same 
without Ernie. ``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 they need to find a new roster spot on the 
Field of Dreams--and everyone better be ready for daytime double-
headers too.
  Ernie Banks, your spirit, passion, and sunny outlook on life will be 
missed.
  I yield the floor.

                          ____________________