Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Faith and Baseball: Buck O' Neil, A Hall of Fame Chrsitian



Buck O' Neil. What does he do?

He makes me smile.
He makes me think.
He makes me laugh.
He makes me love.

Buck O'Neil is one of those men who stand out in a room because of the great joy and love of life that shines from him. He has spent his life in and around baseball. He has spent his time and energy getting people to remember all of those men who were denied a chance at the major leagues because of the color of their skin. He has been a driving force in getting them into the hall of fame.

And if you ask me, and many other people...he deserves to be there himself. But recently, in what may have been his last chance, he didn't get elected. What was his response:

“Don't shed any tears. You think about this: Here I am, the grandson of a slave. And here the whole world was excited about whether I was going into the Hall of Fame or not. We've come a long ways.”

“You know, people that think that about you, you know, it means everything in the world. (They're) showing their love for me because they know I love them.”

"But I think, you know, with me, my greatest accomplishment might have been starting the Negro League Baseball Museum here in Kansas City, which tells that story. So, if it's to be one day I might be in the Hall of Fame. But I just want to thank all of the people that felt the way that they are feeling right now. But don't weep for Buck. Just feel happy, like I am, being thankful, like I am, that I can do and have done the things that I did do."

Vintage Buck. The thing is, Buck is a guy you have to hear. A guy you have to see. A blog post or a book (other than his own) does not do him justice. He is a big reason why this year 17 former negro leaguers will go into the hall, including the first woman. He is a big reason why alot of them are there already.

Here's a story baseball fans don't know:

This was in Chicago, after Ruth came out of the major leagues. He was barnstorming, playing with different teams, and he played us. Satchel was pitching and Ruth was hitting. Satchel threw Ruth the ball and Ruth hit the ball, must have been 500 feet, off of Satchel. Satchel looked at Ruth all the way around the bases and when Ruth got to home plate, you know who shook his hand? Satchel Paige shook Ruth's hand at home plate.

They stopped the game and waited, he and Satchel talking, until the kid went out, got the ball, brought it back and Satchel had Babe Ruth autograph that ball for him. That was some kind of moment.

Imagine that moment.

His book, I was Right on Time can be bought from Amazon for between $2.06 and $12.50.

For those who read this blog, you know that is the first time I have ever promoted anyhthing commercial.

What was his favorite game ever:

"That's easy for me — 1943, Memphis, Tenn., Easter Sunday," he said. "The first time up, I double. Next time, single. Next time, I hit the ball over the left-field fence. The next time I hit to left-center. It looked like it was going over. It hit the top of the fence and bounced back. I got to third base and the coach was calling me for an inside-the-park home run. But I stopped at third — I wanted that triple. I hit the cycle."

At the hotel that night, he received a call to come downstairs. The wife of the man who ran the hotel's restaurant was a teacher. "They had invited some young schoolteachers over to meet the ballplayers," he said. "I walked straight up to a young lady and said: 'My name is Buck O'Neil.' We were married for 51 years. I hit for the cycle and met my future wife."

Hit for the cycle. Meet your wife. Good day. Easter Sunday.

Buck wrote once:

I have another reason for sticking around: Sometimes I think the Lord has kept me on this earth as long as He has so I can bear witness to the Negro leagues. I'm fortunate enough to be a member of the Veterans Committee for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Monte Irvin and I are the only Negro league players on the committee now that Roy Campanella has passed on, and for years I've been putting forward the names of the players I think belong in the Hall.

But how is Buck a Hall of Fame Christian, as my title above says? Because I do not doubt that Buck O' Neil loves everyone he meets. He may not agree with them, but I'm sure he loves them.

I am blogging before work, but I am here so I don't have my copy of his book. I work in a library with 4.5 million titles so I went to get it here. All checked out. I know he says some things about God in his life and wanted a quote.

But you know...Buck O'neil does not need a quote to show how he fits my series, he just needs to be Buck. His life is his speech and testament to God.

His love for his wife.
His love for his friends.
His love for others is worth more words that I can write.

Normally I'm a bit upset when I can't find a book I want, but today I thought: Good, people are getting to know Buck.

When I was a kid I wanted autographed baseballs of all of my heros. Schmidt, Mattingly...so many others. I dreamed about a ball autographed by Ruth or Gehrig.

I'm an adult now. I have the money to buy a few baseballs (not Ruth or Gehrig). But you know, I have one. Just one. From my wife on Christmas a few years ago:

Buck O'Neil.

And if we are blessed in our life with children, they'll know about Buck O'Neil. They'll hear the stories he told of the great men of the Negro Leagues told with the love that Buck musters.

And they'll know that in my book he is a hall of fame baseball player. But more, a hall of fame Christian. We have something in common, Buck and I. If anyone asks me what the best day of my life was so far: The day I met my wife.

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