Ernie Banks has never been one to back down from a hard match.
The legendary Chicago slugger, who is immortalized in the Baseball Hall of Fame and was recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, was one of the first African-American players to go directly from the Negro to Major Leagues when baseball was desegregated. He hit more than 500 home runs over the course of his career.
But despite his personal history of breaking down barriers and setting records, Banks admits that there was a time when he was skeptical that then-Sen. Obama could win the presidential election in 2008.
“I was going to tell him … well, not [that he] shouldn't run for president,” Banks said, “but it's, you know, [an] amazing challenge, because I ran for alderman in Chicago, and I saw that.”
“But he could do it,” Banks told “Politics Confidential” at the White House after being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Though Banks fell short in his own bid for alderman in the 1960s and never ran for public office again, he said his political ambitions never left him.
“I wanted to help people in the community,” he said. “To me, life is all about helping people.”
Banks, affectionately nicknamed “Mr. Cub” for his many years with the Chicago Cubs, played side-by-side with Jackie Robinson and remembers that Robinson gave him some advice when he first joined the Major Leagues.
“He shook my hand and said, ‘Glad to have you here Ernie. Listen and you'll learn.’ Listen,” Banks recalled.
“And that's all I did. I didn't talk. I just listened to people, the coaches, the batters, the players,” Banks said. “I learned a lot from Jackie, I learned a lot from Willie Mays, Hank Aaron.”
Although baseball season has just drawn to a close, Banks said he already knows which team will go all the way in 2014: his Chicago Cubs.
The last time the Cubs clinched the series win was over 100 years ago, but Banks said he has plans to celebrate “just like I did when I went into the Hall of Fame, just like I did when I received the Medal of [Freedom]—just overjoyed by the feeling of the Cubs at the World Series.”
For more of the interview with Banks, and to see his reaction to the scouting report that was used by the Cubs in recruiting him, check out this episode of “Politics Confidential.”
ABC News’ Richard Coolidge, Mary Bruce, Tom Thornton, Hank Brown, and Bob Bramson contributed to this episode.
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- Ernie Banks
- Presidential Medal of Freedom
- Baseball Hall of Fame