October 7th, 2006


Buck O'Neil, 1911-2006

Buck O'Neil"There's nothing like getting your body to do everything it has to do on a baseball field. It's as good as sex; it's as good as music. It fills you up. Waste no tears on me. I didn't come along too early. I was right on time." -- Buck O'Neil

Buck O'Neil passed away last night at the age of 94. O'Neil played in the Negro Leagues, was the first black coach in the Major Leagues, was a scout (he signed Ernie Banks and Lou Brock, among others), and spent his later years as an ambassador for the game. The only good thing about Ric Burns's Baseball documentary was that it introduced Buck to the world at large. My favorite moment of the entire series is his rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

Buck O'NeilEarlier this year he became the oldest man ever to play in a professional baseball game, suiting up for both teams (he was "traded" midway through the game) in the Northern League All-Star Game, and drew a walk for each team in his two at bats. It was a nice thing to do for him after organized baseball snubbed him yet again when they failed to elect him to the Hall of Fame (while electing 17 other Negro League legends) back in February. It's one of the few times Buck seemed perplexed. Not bitter or angry, but as he told Keith Olbermann, "You know, I could play a little." Olbermann, for his part, did get angry, and had this to say about the wretched state of affairs.

Still, it didn't seem to get Buck down, and when all the folks who were elected were inducted, it was O'Neil who went to Cooperstown to do the honor of introducing them. The sad thing is that at the same ceremony, Rachel Robinson said about the inductees, "You always wish things can be done in a timely manner. Clearly, you wished people would be available to enjoy the awards and the accolades." Buck O'Neil won't be around next time.

Alex Belth did a terrific interview with O'Neil some years ago that really seems to give a good sense of the man. The NY Times obituary is here. He was a wonderful man who died too soon. Sad now.

eta: Here's some additional stuff on Buck. First is the full text of an interview did as part of the episode of Baseball on the Negro Leagues. The second is a brief remembrance of fellow DT'er Eric Enders over at the Griddle.