Off to the right, in my profile, the last line says that Buck O'Neil is my hero. I don't mean he's a hero like George Brett is my hero, or Joe Montana or Jerry Rice are heroes to me, or even Hayden Fry or Chuck Long. Buck is a person that I admire not because of his affiliations as a coach/scout with the Chicago Cubs and the Kansas City Royals, or that he played some baseball in Kansas City, although those are both pluses in my mind. It's more of what he did, how he carried himself outside of baseball that I revere, and how he always had a positive outlook on life, despite of all the injustices and prejudices he experienced, and always had a great sense of humor.
If anyone reading this doesn't know, Buck O'Neil played first base for the Negro League's Kansas City Monarchs for much of his playing career, before becoming their manager, and eventually the first black coach in Major League Baseball with the Cubs. He was a member of the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee for nearly 20 years, and was instrumental in getting Negro League players recognition in Cooperstown. (His speech at the induction of the Negro League players last summer shows just how affable he was, how much love he had and how funny he could be.) He was also the driving force behind the formation of the Negro League Baseball Museum (NLBM) in Kansas City, MO.
I really wish I could've had the opportunity to meet him, to talk baseball with him, and just listen to the stories that he had to tell. If you ever get the chance, read his autobiography I Was Right on Time. I just finished it up a couple of hours ago, after starting it last night. It's a fairly easy read, it just feels like you're listening to your grandpa tell you stories. I've always heard that Buck was a friend to everyone that he met, and after reading this, I could see why.
When I first heard that he passed away in October of 2006, tears welled up in my eyes. Even though I had never met him, his life had such an affect on me that I was deeply saddened. Reading the stories from his funeral and visitation in the NLBM, where I had been just weeks before, made me appreciate just how influential Buck was on everyone that he met. This article from espn, especially, got to me, pretty much made me a blubbering mess for a night. I was almost in the same state when I dug into the birthday gift bag that Bill had put together for me (with some help from Haley) this past January, and found an amazing picture of Buck in a wonderful frame. But when I was told to dig deeper, my eyes were tearing up again when I discovered a baseball autographed by Buck O'Neil. It was one of the best birthday gifts I've ever received.
A couple last things before I hit the hay. I don't know if this post really came together like I was hoping it would, but that's what I get for writing it at 2:30 in the morning... Also, here are a few video clips that I had found with Buck in them, one from Ken Burns' Baseball documentary, with Buck singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," one with Buck singing a song that he always uses to close out speeches, and one of a grade school class doing a pretty good summary of his autobiography (it's cute, and shows how active and spry Buck could be in his 90's.)
The greatest thing in all my life is loving you