Saturday, October 07, 2006

The last link to the Negro Leagues

Buck O'Neil, ex-Negro league baseball player and ambassador to those times has passed away at the age of 94.

Buck always said he became an overnight sensation in his 80s. This is certainly around the time I became aware of him as he was a large part of the Ken Burns documentary about the sport of Baseball.

O'Neil was one of the great baseball historians. He talked of seeing Babe Ruth hit home runs and Roger Clemens throw strikes. People would often ask him if he was bitter about the fact that the segregation of the Major Leagues prevented him from playing with white players. His response was always that it didn't matter to him anymore. He got to see all the great players play. From Josh Gibson to Ted Williams, Satchel Paige to Ichiro Suzuki.

By the time the Major Leagues was fully integrated, O'Neil was too old to play. He did however become a scout for the Chicago Cubs and, later, the Kansas City Royals.

He wrote a great book of his life in baseball called I Was Right On Time: My Journey From Negro Leagues to the Majors.

In the early 90s, he helped establish the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. THis place is a not-for-profit building set up solely to help keep the memory alive of the great history of that time in baseball. With O`Neil`s passing, I am seriously thinking of becoming a member. Just so my money can help keep the building going.

O`Neil even made the news earlier this summer when he signed a contract with the Kansas CIty T-Bones of the Northern League. He stepped up to the plate at the top of the first inning of the Northern League All-Star game and drew an intentional walk. He was then traded to the other team and drew an intentional walk in the bottom half of the inning. Yes it was all a marketing stunt...but still it was a nice moment and a great tribute.

Major League Baseball could have done the right thing as O`Neil was becoming more and more frail in the last couple of years. They could have elected him to the Baseball Hall of Fame. However, the arguments against it were that his numbers in the Negro Leagues were not that great. His lifetime batting average was only .288. In 2006, he literally fell ONE VOTE SHORT of being elected in by the Veterans Committe. When he found out that he had not been elected in this year, he said the following:

God's been good to me. They didn't think Buck was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. That's the way they thought about it and that's the way it is, so we're going to live with that. Now, if I'm a Hall of Famer for you, that's all right with me. Just keep loving old Buck. Don't weep for Buck. No, man, be happy, be thankful.

Now, it can only be done posthumously. It will probably occur next year, unfortunately, a little too late.



Blogger chris epting said...

Nice post on Buck. And thanks for mentioning the next book I have coming out (the rock and roll road trip album cover thing)

on that note, thought you'd like these

And on a baseball note, thought you'd like these:


9:23 AM  

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