Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks dies at 83

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Former Chicago Cub Ernie Banks, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Photo Credit: ScottRAnselmo@ Wikipedia May 2009

(CNN) – Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks died Friday in Chicago, family attorney Mark Bogen said. Banks was 83.

The circumstances surrounding his death were not immediately available.

“His death was not expected,” Bogen said.

The family has scheduled a news conference for Sunday.

“Words cannot express how important Ernie Banks will always be to the Chicago Cubs, the city of Chicago and Major League Baseball,” Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said in a statement. “He was one of the greatest players of all time.”

Banks played for the Cubs from 1953-1971 and was the first black player on the team. The Dallas native began his professional career in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1950. After two years in the Army, he returned to the Monarchs, who sold his contract to the Cubs.

“He was a pioneer in the major leagues. And more importantly, he was the warmest and most sincere person I’ve ever known,” Ricketts said.

“Approachable, ever optimistic and kindhearted, Ernie Banks is and always will be Mr. Cub. My family and I grieve the loss of such a great and good-hearted man, but we look forward to celebrating Ernie’s life in the days ahead.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also mourned the loss of a baseball great.

“Ernie Banks was more than a baseball player. He was one of Chicago’s greatest ambassadors. He loved this city as much as he loved — and lived for — the game of baseball,” he said.

Banks was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.

He hit 512 home runs during his career. Five times he hit more than 40 home runs. Twice he led the league in homers and twice in RBI.

Banks was a member of 11 National League All-Star teams. He was voted the “Greatest Cub Ever” in a 1969 Chicago Sun-Times fan poll.

His positive attitude earned him a second moniker, “Mr. Sunshine.”

Hall-of-Fame manager Leo Durocher, who was known for saying “Nice guys finish last,” made an exception for Banks.

“Banks is one nice guy who finished first — but he had the talent to go with it,” Durocher said.

And this from sportswriter Arthur Daley: “He rejoices merely in living, and baseball is a marvelous extra that makes his existence so much more pleasurable.”

In 2013, Banks was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.

“To have this award passed on to me is certainly a great joy,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”

And it left an impression on the President and First Lady Michelle Obama too.

“Ernie came up through the Negro Leagues, making $7 a day,” Obama said in a White House statement.

“Along the way, he became known as much for his 512 home runs and back-to-back National League MVPs as for his cheer, his optimism, and his love of the game.

“As a Hall-of-Famer, Ernie was an incredible ambassador for baseball, and for the city of Chicago. He was beloved by baseball fans everywhere, including Michelle, who, when she was a girl, used to sit with her dad and watch him play on TV.”