As every media outlet in the universe has no doubt let you know, today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
You will be inundated with remembrances, retrospectives, theories, and conspiracies about every aspect of this event. As I have said before, I do not want to lament anyone's death, I would rather celebrate how they lived. And boy, did JFK live. Plus, what gets lost most of all in the canonization of the man and the lunatic myth-making of his death is all the actual stuff he did. I think if you asked the average American about any of the legislation his presidency passed, most would give you a look akin to a dog being shown a card trick.
One thing JFK actually did was set the standard for the current Presidential Medal of Freedom. This is the highest civilian award in the United States. Earlier this week, President Obama awarded this year's recipients and one of them was Mr. Cub Ernie Banks. He is the ninth Major League baseball player to receive this medal. As a change of pace today, let's look at all those winners, shall we?
Ernie Banks 2013
Poor Ernie not only never got to play in the postseason, he had to receive his medal from a White Sox fan...he probably deserved better than that.
Stan Musial 2011
Musial was in the navy in WWII (as you can see in the card in the middle first row) and you would be hard pressed to find a better ambassador for baseball than The Man.
Buck O'Neil 2006
OK, I take that back, Buck O'Neil might be the best ambassador for baseball ever. He played in the Negro Leagues from 1937 until basically the Negro Leagues stopped being a thing. He then was a scout for the Cubs (and helped them sign the aforementioned Ernie Banks) and was even the first African-American coach in the majors. But Buck O'Neil became an icon late in life thanks to Ken Burns' documentary series Baseball. If a 20+ hour film can have a star, Buck was it. His knowledge and enthusiasm for baseball permeate the whole project and every moment he is on the screen is a joy.
Frank Robinson 2005
Frank Robinson is simply the most underrated baseball player of all time. His numbers somehow get lost in the shuffle, even though they are gargantuan. He also was the first African American manager in the majors when he took the reins of the Indians in 1975. Plus, if you ever want to ask a tricky trivia question, hit them with "Who was the first black manager in the National League?" because the answer is also Frank Robinson.
Roberto Clemente 2003
I have covered Roberto Clemente before on this blog. If you don't understand why Roberto would get this award, you don't understand either.
Hank Aaron 2002
For all the scrutiny today's athletes say they have to endure, did any man have to put up with more nonsense while just trying to play a game than Hank Aaron? And given those circumstances, could he have acted more humble and classy? I think not. America owes a huge apology to Hank Aaron and I like to think this award was part of that.
Ted Williams 1991
I snarkily celebrated Teddy Ballgame recently but really, to be honest, there is no way to overstate Williams' credentials as an American Badass: Maybe the greatest hitter of all time. Maybe the greatest fly fisherman of all time. Flew combat missions in two different wars. Used his Hall of Fame speech as a call to have Negro League players enshrined. I mean, John Wayne based his voice and cadence after him for crying out loud. What is more American than that?
Jackie Robinson 1984
That it took until 1984 to give Jackie Robinson this honor is kind of outrageous, don't you think? Shouldn't he have been on the short list, like, the very first year?
Joe DiMaggio 1977
It proves that people were always kinda overestimating the value of Joe DiMaggio as he was the first baseball player to receive the Medal of Freedom. That said, you have to remember that sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Dividing The Myth, The Man, and The Player out of Joe D is almost impossible, so you kinda just have to go with it - and it seems history and pop culture always have when it comes to him. Plus, you gotta figure since he was married to Marilyn Monroe for a short time, he and JFK had a lot more in common than we'd all care to think about.