Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.

09 October 2006

Never Forget Buck O'Neil

This past Saturday, the world lost a former Negro League baseball player, an outstanding baseball guy, and an even better person. Buck O'Neil past away at the age of 94.

Ordinarily I don't really care if a famous person, or a celebrity, or a sports guy passes on. In my little corner of life, they really don't matter because they don't know me, or care about me etc. I'm sure that some of my favorite athletes or actors or musicians knew me on even a slight personal level, they would forget me before I was done talking to them. Knowing what I know about Buck, if he knew me and he remembered me, he would care.

As a baseball fan, Buck means the world to the game of baseball. He lived and played baseball in a time most of us can never imagine or a time we could not relate to. None of us have ever been told we could not attend a certain High School or a certain University because of the color of our skin. None of us have ever been told that despite having the skills, we cannot play baseball at the highest level because of the color of our skin. Buck faced off of that and persevered. He played in the Negro Leagues. In 1962, Buck became the first black coach in baseball when the Cubs hired him. There was a great quote in a story the AP ran about O'Neil's death. "He saw Babe Ruth hit home runs and watched Roger Clemens throw strikes. He talked hitting with Lou Gehrig and Ichiro Suzuki."

Buck never slowed down. He embodied baseball and he spent every day of his life living baseball. Most of us as kids dream of doing something like that, he actually did. Whether he was helping to make known and keep alive the memory of the Negro Leagues or just talking baseball to any number of a group of kids, he was right at home. Baseball could not have had a better ambassador then Buck.

This past February, a 12 person committee was formed for the sole purpose of voting on whether or not Negro League players (and pre- Negro League players) should be in the hall of fame. I don't think anyone who knew Buck thought he would be left off that list…but he was. I have no idea who sat on this 12 person committee, but they should be shot. He fell one vote short of being voted in. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig should have put him in right after that vote came up. He didn't. Buck never even worried about not being selected for the Hall. It rolled off his back like everything else. Incredible. If Bud Selig has any class (and this might be a long shot) he will use his power as Commissioner to allow Buck O'Neil to enter the Hall of Fame. Something that should have been done when Buck was alive.

In early November, a 95th birthday part was scheduled for Buck. Celebrities, baseball figures, friends etc were all to attend. The Newspaper says the party is still on, but it will be a tribute instead. Good for them. It will be a shame if Buck's memory dies with him. Baseball and all sports in general need more faces like Buck O'Neil around. At a time when sports seems to be about greed, illegal performance enhancing drugs, off field incidents, and god knows what else, guys like Buck help you remember everything good about the game that you love.


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