Friday, October 13, 2006

Just the Right Time


I somehow missed the fact that Buck O'Neil died last week. I know that he had been in ill health for a short time and I was also aware that at 94 his chances of survival were not good. His is a very sad passing for fans of the game. He was virtually forgotten by the game until Ken Burns' Baseball documentary put him back on the map. He was the unquestioned star of the series. His tales of the negro leagues and segregation were incredibly entertaining. He spent the last part of his life trying to keep the memory of the Negro leagues alive and that culminated in the opening of the Negro League museum in his hometown of Kansas City. Someone who had been denied the opportunity to play in the major leagues might have been bitter, but Buck was simply not that kind of man. He always said that he didn't wish that he had been born later so that he could have played in the major leagues. He said that he was born at just the right time.

He missed inclusion in the Hall of Fame this year by one vote. The special committee, which had been set up by baseball to review the records of Negro League players and owners, elected some 17 players and owners to the Hall but Buck was not among them. I wrote at the time that he, along with a number of the people who were voted in, did not deserve the honor. I was speaking of his play on the field. As a baseball player, I did not think that he had done enough to deserve to be included with the greatest baseball players of all time. However, his work on behalf of the game, after his playing days, certainly would merit his inclusion in the Hall.

By all accounts he was a happy man who was never bitter over his lot in life, even though he had every right to be. I never saw a photo of Buck when he didn't have a smile on his face. He even came to bat in a professional game this year. He was supposed to just take a walk, but he couldn't help taking a swing at one of the pitches. I wish I was aware of passing sooner. I can only apologize to Buck that this is a week late. Not only the world of baseball, but the whole world is darker place because we have the lost the light that was Buck O'Neil. Hopefully, at least now, he'll get to play baseball with whomever wants.

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