Like many folks, I didn’t really know of Buck before the famous Ken Burn’s documentary. But after that aired, it felt like Buck was an old friend. Buck lives in Kansas City, and has been a champion for the players of the old Negro League for decades. In fact, he was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Negro League Hall of Fame. It’s arguable that without his tireless challenge to the world to remember the contributions of these forgotten baseball heros, that none of them would have ever been elected to the Hall of Fame. In fact, on the Olbermann show yesterday, Ernie Banks said flatly that HE would not be in the Hall of Fame without Buck O’Neil.
Buck had some spectacular seasons in the Negro Leagues. While his career average was a paltry .288, he averaged .358 one season, and over .340 for two more. He was the batting champ of the league in ’40 and ’48. After his days as a player for the old Kansas City Monarchs, he became their manager. And, years later, became the first black coach hired by the Chicago Cubs.
The truth is, statistics from the Negro Leagues are inherently unreliable, and it’s possible that none of the stats we have of that era are entirely accurate. But the oral accounts are that Buck was a fine player. And, even if his player stats don’t blow you away, what he’s done as a good will ambassador for the game, over a period of decades, merits his inclusion, it seems to me.
I mean, what an irony…that Buck’s ambassadorship for all these old players is probably what gets them in the Hall, but he doesn’t?!! Heck, John Madden got in the Football Hall recently, and I guarantee you that half his support came from his ambassadorship for the game, and not just his on-field or coaching stats.
Despite the widespread shock the last few days, Buck is not showing any bitterness. Yes, it looks like that this was it –that there’s not going to be another shot for him to get in– but he’s not really showing any anger toward the electors and this obviously poor decision on their part. He’s happy to have folks still remember him, and still champion his right to be in the Hall. And, more than anything else, he’s still proud of all the old Negro League players, and still willing to do anything to help their memory stay alive in the hearts of fans everwhere.
In fact, as the planning for the induction ceremony for all these new inductees got underway, they apparently found that almost all of them are now dead. And so, guess who has been chosen to speak on their behalf on the day they “go into” the Baseball Hall of Fame?
That’s right. Buck O’Neil.