Buck O’Neil is kinda, sorta, my grandfather. That is a very bizarre idea for me to posit. Here’s what I mean: over the last 15-20 years I’ve learned to love reading what Joe Posnanski writes and, more recently, listening to what Joe Posnanski says. Before that Substack, Joe wrote for several newspapers, Sports Illustrated, The Athletic, and more.
Joe loves baseball and loves writing a lot about baseball. I love baseball and love reading a lot about baseball. Joe loves baseball and loves talking a lot about baseball with the hilarious Michael Schur and other friends. I love baseball and love listening to Joe talk about baseball with Schur and friends. Joe loves baseball and loves writing and talking about the wonderful Buck O’Neil. Because Joe writes and speaks about the wonderful Buck O’Neil, I love Buck O’Neil too. Ergo, Buck O’Neil is my literary grandfather?
(That’s probably too weird and trying too hard reaching for a hook. But I’m attempting to be more experimental in this space, so I’m leaving it in.) Point is, without Joe, I don’t know that I would know about Buck. And I am so very glad I know about Buck O’Neil. Knowing about Buck makes the world a better place.
Granted, loving Buck is not hard to do. Even people with an original-Grinch-sized heart love Buck O’Neil.
(I have no actually evidence to support this claim. I just can’t imagine anyone hearing about Buck, reading about Buck, or meeting Buck and not loving him.) Posnanski’s book, The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America first introduced me to Buck. If you’ve read this far and wonder, “Who is Buck O’Neil and why should I care?”, The Soul of Baseball is the book for you. But I don’t actually expect you find and read that book this moment. Perhaps this from Posnanski can serve as primer:
Buck O’Neil was the greatest spokesman the game has ever had, a fine player in the Negro leagues, a fine manager, a legendary scout, the first African-American coach in Major League Baseball, but most of all that first thing, a storyteller, a man who spread the gospel of baseball far and wide and helped keep alive the story of the Negro leagues when it was in danger of dying.–“Minnie and Buck” on JoeBlogs Substack 12/4/21
For some facts and an overview story of his life, may I suggest The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s info post on Buck? (In fact, please consider spending some time noodling around the NLBM site. Even those who don’t care about baseball will, I think, find items of intrigue and interest there.) Buck should have been elected to the Hall of Fame long ago. His previous chance was in 2006. He didn’t get in. He responded to this blow the way he seemed to respond to everything: with grace, humor, and humility. “Well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.” Despite not getting elected, O’Neil agreed to speak at the Hall of Fame on behalf that year’s inductees. Buck died a few months later at the age of 94. I know all of that because Posnanski wrote it.
Look, anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear knows that sports are the worst. In youth sports… No. You know what? I’m not going down that road. The awfulness of sports, while obvious, needs to be said out loud. But not here, not today. This is a day to celebrate. I guess you’ll have to trust me that I’m well aware how terrible sports can be.
Somehow Buck transcended all that ugliness. He was a man who had every right to be angry, vengeful, and bitter. Yet, he chose not to be. He chose to be kind, forgiving, and generous. Over and over and over again, Buck O’Neil persisted to be kind and generous. Posnanski again:
I think of Buck, who was denied a chance to go to Sarasota High School, to attend a white college, to play in the Major Leagues, to manage in the Major Leagues, to buy a home in the white part of Kansas City, to fight side by side with white Americans in World War II. And I think of him asking people in airports if they can remember the first baseball game they attended or their first day of school. I think of him walking up to strangers tables in restaurants and starting conversations. I think of the countless times he would see little girl or boy wearing a baseball glove, and he would pull out a baseball and play catch. I think of him offering hugs to anyone and everyone.“Buck and the Hall” JoeBlogs Substack 7/17/19
And now, finally, after yesterday’s vote, Buck O’Neil is officially a Hall of Famer. In this tiny little way, for this tiny little moment, there is more goodness, justice, and joy in the world. This is sports at its very best. This is why I can still love baseball.
P.S. Posnanski reacted to this excellent news about Buck with a post he made public and shareable. I encourage you to enjoy it.