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Ernie Banks receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Obama awarded Cubs icon Ernie Banks the Medal of Freedom. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama awarded Cubs icon Ernie Banks the Medal of Freedom. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Cubs legend Ernie Banks was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

The Medal of Freedom, established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy, is presented to individuals who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security and national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors." Recipients of the award are chosen by the president, with the assistance of the Distinguished Civilian Service Awards Board.

Banks was one of 16 Americans honored Wednesday, in a group that included former President Bill Clinton, media icon Oprah Winfrey, former astronaut Sally Ride, feminist Gloria Steinem and North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith.

President Obama celebrated Banks' achievements on and off the baseball field. From's report:

“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.”

Banks, who was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1977, his first year of eligibility, played for the Cubs for 19 years. He was known for his enthusiastic game pep talk, "Let's play two!"