Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks was honored for his performance on the field and his optimistic approach to life Wednesday, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in a ceremony at the White House. Banks, 82, was among 16 recipients, including President Bill Clinton, former astronaut Sally Ride, feminist Gloria Steinem, North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, and media icon Oprah Winfrey.
Obama relayed the story of Banks’ enthusiastic pep talk to his Cubs teammates: “Let’s play two.”
“That’s Mr. Cub — the man who came up through the Negro Leagues, making $7 a day, and became the first black player to suit up for the Cubs and one of the greatest hitters of all time,” Obama said. “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.”
There was some laughter in the room after that. The Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908.
“And that’s serious belief,” Obama said. “That is something that even a White Sox fan like me can respect. He is just a wonderful man and a great icon of my hometown.”
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest honor given to civilians in the United States, established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy. It is presented to those who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Banks joins a distinguished list of baseball players to receive the honor, including Hank Aaron (2002), Roberto Clemente (2003) Joe DiMaggio (1977), Stan Musial (2011), Buck O’Neil (2006), Frank Robinson (2005), Jackie Robinson (1984) and Ted Williams (1991).
Banks began his baseball career with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League in 1950, and was the first African-American player on the Cubs, making his Major League debut on Sept. 17, 1953, at the age of 22. He played 19 seasons with the Cubs and finished with a .274 batting average, 512 home runs, and 1,636 RBIs.
Although he never reached the postseason, Banks won back to back Most Valuable Player honors, was elected into the baseball Hall of Fame, had his No. 14 retired in 1982 by the Cubs, and is immortalized in a bronze statue outside Wrigley Field.
– Carrie Muskat
* Junior Lake had three hits in Licey’s 3-2, 13-inning win over Estrellas in the Dominican Republic. The two teams used 23 pitchers combined.
* Luis Valbuena drove in the go-ahead run with a one-out RBI single in the eighth to lift Lara to a 5-4 victory over Aragua in Venezuelan Winter League play. Valbuena, who has started at second base every game, is batting .304.
Major League teams have until Wednesday to protect players from being selected in the Rule 5 Draft by adding them onto their 40-man roster. A little background: The Rule 5 Draft takes place Dec. 12, the last day of the Winter Meetings. Between Wednesday’s roster deadline and Dec. 12, teams will not be permitted to add players from the Minor League rosters to the Major League 40-man roster. Teams can add Major League free agents or players acquired in trade. The Cubs’ 40-man roster is currently at 37.
Who is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft? Players who signed at age 19 or older become Rule 5 eligible after four years. That means any players who signed out of college in the 2010 Draft are eligible. A player who signed his first pro contract at age 18 or younger has five years before becoming eligible. Players drafted out of high school in 2009 are in this pool.
As a refresher, here are the players on the Cubs’ 40-man roster:
Pitchers (19): Jake Arrieta, Daniel Bard, Alberto Cabrera, Kyuji Fujikawa, Justin Grimm, Edwin Jackson, Chang-Yong Lim, Blake Parker, Brooks Raley, Neil Ramirez, Hector Rondon, Zac Rosscup, Chris Rusin, James Russell, Jeff Samardzija, Pedro Strop, Carlos Villanueva, Arodys Vizcaino, Travis Wood.
Catcher (1): Welington Castillo.
Infielders (10): Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro, Mat Gamel, Donnie Murphy, Mike Olt, Anthony Rizzo, Luis Valbuena, Christian Villanueva, Josh Vitters, Logan Watkins.
Outfielders (7): Brian Bogusevic, Brett Jackson, Junior Lake, Nate Schierholtz, Jorge Soler, Ryan Sweeney, Matt Szczur.
The Cubs released the 2014 Spring Training schedule on Monday. They will play their first Cactus League game at their new spring stadium in Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 27 against the Diamondbacks and finish the schedule with two games at Chase Field in Phoenix. The 2014 Spring Training schedule includes 16 home games, 16 Cactus League road games, a pair of games in Las Vegas and two games against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field.
On March 15-16, the Cubs travel to Las Vegas for a two-game split-squad series against the Mets. The Cubs also will play one home night game in Mesa on March 24 against the Padres.
Individual game tickets for 2014 Cubs home Spring Training games will go on sale Jan. 11 at 11 a.m. CT at the ballpark’s ticket office, on http://www.Cubs.com, or by calling 1-800-THE-CUBS. Season tickets at the Cubs new spring ballpark are on sale now and group tickets will go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. CT by calling 1-800-THE-CUBS.
All Cubs home Spring Training games begin at 1:05 p.m. Arizona time unless otherwise noted. Split squad games are denoted with an “ss.”
2014 Cubs Spring Training Schedule
(Date, Opponent, Site)
Feb. 27: vs. Diamondbacks, Mesa
Feb. 28: at Angels, Tempe
March 1 (ss): vs. Giants, Mesa; at Diamondbacks, Scottsdale (7:10 p.m.)
March 2: vs. Royals, Mesa
March 3: at Brewers, Maryvale
March 4: vs. Athletics, Mesa
March 5: vs. Rockies, Mesa
March 6: at Indians, Goodyear
March 7 (ss): vs. Indians, Mesa; at Angels, Tempe
March 8: at Reds, Goodyear
March 9: vs. Brewers, Mesa
March 10: at Giants, Scottsdale
March 11: vs. Rockies, Mesa
March 12: at Mariners, Peoria
March 13: Off day
March 14: vs. Dodgers, Mesa
March 15 (ss): at Royals, Surprise; vs. Mets, Las Vegas
March 16 (ss): vs. Indians, Mesa; vs. Mets, Las Vegas
March 17 (ss): vs. Angels, Mesa; at Athletics, Phoenix
March 18: at Rangers, Surprise (7:05 p.m.)
March 19: at Rockies, Scottsdale (6:40 p.m.)
March 20: vs. Mariners, Mesa
March 21: at White Sox, Glendale
March 22: vs. Reds, Mesa
March 23: at Athletics, Phoenix
March 24: vs. Padres, Mesa (7:05 p.m.)
March 25 (ss): vs. Angels, Mesa; at Padres, Peoria (7:05 p.m.)
March 26: at Diamondbacks, Scottsdale
March 27: vs. White Sox, Mesa
March 28: at Diamondbacks, Chase Field
March 29: at Diamondbacks, Chase Field
– Carrie Muskat
* Luis Valbuena went 2-for-5 in Lara’s 9-8 loss to Caracas in Venezuelan winter league play. Valbuena started his fourth straight game at second base.
* Christian Villanueva was 1-for-2 in Obregon’s 4-3, 10-inning loss to Hermosillo in Mexican winter league play. Villanueva is batting .256.
Know there are a lot of Cubs fans — and non-baseball fans — whose lives were upended by Sunday’s tornadoes and storms. Our thoughts and prayers go out to you.
– Carrie Muskat
According to FOX Sports and MLB Network’s Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs have signed infielder Chris Valaika to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training. Valaika, 28, appeared in 22 games with the Marlins last season, batting .219. He was originally drafted by the Reds in the third round in 2006, and signed with the Marlins as a free agent one year ago. He opened the 2013 season with the Marlins but went on the disabled list May 8 with a fractured left wrist and was eventually sent to the Minor Leagues. He batted .246 in 37 games at Triple-A New Orleans last season.
It’s no surprise Valaika left the Marlins. According to the Miami Herald’s Clark Spencer, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria vetoed Valaika’s promotion from the Minors late last season. Loria was upset that Valaika, among others, had complained that he was verbally harassed by then-hitting coach Tino Martinez. Loria had picked Martinez to be the Marlins hitting coach. Martinez resigned from the Marlins in July.
Valaika’s agent, Joel Wolfe, told Rosenthal: “Chris is very excited to be with a first-class organization.”
* Daniel Bard continued to struggle in Winter League play. He walked five and gave up three runs on Saturday in his third appearance for Criollos de Caguas in Puerto Rico. The right-hander started the seventh, and walked the first two batters he faced, then threw a wild pitch, then walked another to load the bases. One run scored on a wild pitch, and then another run scored on another wild pitch. Bard walked two more batters before he was lifted.
In three relief appearances in Puerto Rico so far, Bard has given up seven earned runs on nine walks and four wild pitches, has hit three batters, and has yet to give up a hit. He’s retired one of the 13 batters faced over three outings.
* Luis Valbuena made his third straight start at second base on Saturday for Cardenales de Lara in Venezuela, and for the first time, was hitless.
* Junior Lake was 1-for-4, scored a run and stole two bases in Estrellas’ 6-4 loss to Toros in the Dominican Republic.
Cubs prospect Dallas Beeler gave up one run on two hits over five innings and struck out five but it wasn’t good enough as Surprise beat Mesa 2-0 to win the Arizona Fall League Championship on Saturday. The only run off Beeler came in the second when Henry Urrutia doubled with two outs and scored on Jorge Alfaro’s single to center. Cubs prospects Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler were a combined 0-for-7 for Mesa, which totaled five hits in the game, played in Scottsdale.
Beeler, 24, was a 41st round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of Oral Roberts University. This season, he was 4-2 in nine starts for Double-A Tennessee, compiling a 3.13 ERA, and striking out 35 over 54 2/3 innings while walking 17.
– Carrie Muskat