A note on Buck O’Neil

You can almost picture the look on Buck O’Neil’s face this morning when he was denied entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

It probably looked a bit like the time he was denied into entry into Major League Baseball based on the color of his skin.

It might have even looked like it did when the same country that said he wasn’t good enough to play baseball with the mainstream said he was good enough to serve in the Navy during World War II.

You’re not good enough to play with us, they said, but you’re good enough to go fight for us.

By the time O’Neil showed up in the consciousness of mainstream White America in the mid-1950s he had already been through one hell of a career playing for the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the many Negro League Teams that was chock full of players who, if given equal opportunity, would have changed the cultural makeup of the Baseball Hall of Fame today.

True heroes never kick up much of a fuss when they don’t get the recognition they deserve. Just ask O’Neil. He never seemed to give much of a damn about having to play in a segregated system. He doesn’t seem to wonder much about what his career would have been like if he had played for a team that had the same revenue, fan base, and media coverage as the white teams.

When you point at Robinson, Gibson, and Campanella and call them pioneers you better point at Buck O’Neill as well.

After the Chicago Cubs decided there probably wasn’t too much harm in giving Blacks more or less the same opportunities as Whites, they signed O’Neill as a scout.

He later became the first Black coach in Major League Baseball.

He was responsible for signing both Ernie Banks and Lou Brock to the Cubs. The pair would dominate the game for years and would later be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, a honor that O’Neil is now never likely to receive.

With Dimaggio-esque grace off the field, O’Neil has spent decades traveling the country and telling the story of the Negro Leagues. He is arguably one of the finest ambassadors that era of the sport has ever seen.

So when a 94-year old O’Neil heard this morning that he was passed over for what will likely be his last chance to be enshrined, we can only guess what went thought his mind.

I’m sure it was something noble and sad. But his legacy goes far beyond anything a plaque in The Hall could ever capture.

But it still makes you wonder.

What has a lifetime of baseball taught you?

It is a religion. For me. You understand? If you go by the rules, it is a right. The things that you can do. The things that you can’t do, that you aren’t supposed to do. And if these are carried out, it makes a beautiful picture overall. It’s a very beautiful thing because it taught me and it teaches everyone else to live by the rules, to abide by the rules. I think sports in general teach a guy humility. I can see a guy hit the ball out of the ballpark, or a grand slam home run to win a baseball game, and that same guy can come up tomorrow in that situation and miss the ball and lose the ball game. It can bring you up here but don’t get too damn cocky because tomorrow it can bring you down there. See? But one thing about it though, you know there always will be a tomorrow. You got me today, but I’m coming back. (more)

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