I Need A Million Buck’s
Last week I lost two friends. One was a childhood friend, killed in a senseless murder in Miami, and the other a friend to many through his love of baseball. I met Buck O’Neil when I wore a younger man’s clothes. His love for people and baseball were priceless.
At the beginning of each baseball season the FAMU (Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Tallahassee, Fla.) baseball team would play in the “Buck O’Neil Baseball Tournament” in Tuskegee, Alabama. You knew when he got to the ball park, the volume increased, and crowds started to form, then someone shouted he’s here, we all knew who they were talking about. Mr. O’Neil was a roving scout and ambassador of baseball for the Dodger organization at the time. Buck O’Neil made it part of his mission to say hello and shake the hand of every ballplayer. He urged us all to do our best no matter what the outcome of the game. He stayed from the first pitch to the last, talking baseball, telling stories of his travel and his love of baseball.
No doubt that come next year he will not come one vote short of election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, as was the case this year. He was at the 2006 induction ceremony to introduce another player’s entrance to hall, but not his own. He spoke as always about his friend’s great heroics on and off the diamond, and how the induction was a fitting tribute to a great man. When asked if he were disappointed about being just one vote shy of his own induction, he just shrugged it off and continued to talk about his love of the game and all the wonderful people that had enriched his life because of his involvement with baseball. His death was untimely, but he had lived a full life to the ripe young age of 94. All his life he loved baseball. I wish there were a million Buck’s to go around; that’s a million Buck O’Neil’s so that many more lives would have been touched by this wonderful man.
What makes Buck O’Neil one of the most fascinating figures in the Baseball History? He’s one of the greatest historians/storytellers of the Negro Leagues. He should know. O’Neil played with and managed the Kansas City Monarchs from 1938-55. He guided the team to five pennants and two Negro World Series titles. That’s not all. He had the keen eye for talent. Guess who signed Ernie Banks and Lou Brock to their first minor-league contracts with the Cubs? That’s right, a scout named Buck O’Neil. O’Neil also broke barriers in the Major Leagues, becoming the first African-American coach (also with the Cubs) in the big leagues in 1962. O’Neil, 90, is currently the chairman of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.