CHICAGO — President Barack Obama will bestow the nation's highest honor for civilians upon Cubs legend Ernie Banks and Oprah Winfrey, the White House announced Thursday.
Banks and Winfrey will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is "presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors," according to the White House.
The president will honor 14 other individuals later this year, including former President Bill Clinton; former Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.); country music star Loretta Lynn; pioneering astronaut Sally Ride; former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee; jazz musician Arturo Sandoval; former University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith; women's rights activist Gloria Steinem; civil rights organizers Cordy Vivian and Bayard Rustin; federal judge Patricia Wald, and Nobel Prize-winning chemist Mario Molina.
Banks, 82, who earned the nickname Mr. Cub, played 19 seasons with the North Siders, batting .274 with 512 home runs. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977 and was named Most Valuable Player of the National League twice. His statue stands outside Wrigley Field on Clark Street.
Winfrey, 59, hosted the Chicago-based "The Oprah Winfrey Show" for 27 years, and became one of the city's biggest celebrities. She founded O magazine and currently runs the OWN television network. Known for her charitable efforts, Winfrey was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in 1985's "The Color Purple."
"I am humbled and honored to receive this great award and to be among such distinguished honorees,” said Banks in a statement released by the Cubs. “I have spent my life trying to help others enjoy and appreciate the sport I love. I thank President Obama for all his efforts. The Chicago Cubs and Cubs fans everywhere share in this award, as their support makes me proud to continue to work on behalf of America's greatest game."