Saturday, October 07, 2006
It's ironic that on the same day that I suggest that HE should be the one to convince the world to watch the baseball playoffs instead of that blowhard Tommy Lasorda, Buck O'Neil died quietly in a Kansas City hospital at the age of 94 (he was almost 95). There are few that lived more of a happier life than the guy Satchel Paige called "Nancy".
There's nothing new that I can add to all of the wonderful things that have already been said about Buck O'Neil. I am reminded though of a story I read in a Roy Firestone book (well, there's a name, and forgive me for reading a Roy Firestone book, it was printed before Jerry Maguire after all). In the book, Roy tells a story about Tommy Lasorda, away from the camera and glitz, of how tired and cranky he'd be after having to put on the show of having to BE Tommy, waving and smiling to everyone and basically "selling" Tommy (and the Dodgers of course). I can tell you first hand that what you saw with Buck was always the real thing.
On a hot Kansas City day in 1998, after the Royals were again amongst the worst teams in baseball, getting beaten badly by probably the best Yankee team of their great run, Buck O'Neil came out of the stadium and legitimately couldn't be happier to SEE people. Any people who bothered to show up at Kauffman Stadium. He smiled a huge smile everywhere he went, and he didn't want to leave until he literally got a chance to at the very least shake everyone's hands within distance.
Buck O'Neil's enthusiasm and energy was genuine. He was one of the last ties to the great Negro League teams and players, to players like Josh Gibson. He got so excited when he heard the sound of Bo Jackson's bat hitting a ball, because the only other times he heard such a sound was when he saw Babe Ruth and Gibson hit a ball. During all of the horrible Kansas City teams that plagued the 1990's through today, Buck was the only shining light that Kansas City baseball had to offer. I only hope that someday I can enjoy life and people half as much as Buck O'Neil seemed to. Nobody seemed to genuinely enjoy life as much as he did.