Saturday, October 07, 2006

Buck was in his own Hall of Fame

Every now and then you meet someone and think, "You know, they were put on this earth for a special reason." John Joseph "Buck" O'Neil was such a character.

He had every reason to be angry. A star Negro Leagues player and manager, O'Neil never made it to the bigs. But he was baseball's greatest ambassador. And he had a heart of gold.

When baseball had a chance to thank him, to give him the recognition he so richly deserved, they instead turned him away. Of all the Negro Leagues players and managers voted into the Hall by a special committee, surprisingly, shockingly, O'Neil wasn't among them.

He didn't care.

"Don't weep for Buck," he said.

He spent his final years promoting the Negro Leagues Museum and Hall of Fame in Kansas City. And when he came to Knoxville nearly three years ago to speak to the UT Leadoff Banquet, he was full of grace and made jokes about his age.

"Good black don't crack," he said.

When baseball asked O'Neil to deliver a speech before this year's induction ceremony, he did. But rather than talk about himself, as virtually everyone does, he talked about others.

His first order of business was to ask the assembled crowd to join hands and sing "The greatest thing in all the world is loving you."

One of our failures as a society is that so many of us look to athletes for inspiration. So many of them break our hearts.

Not Buck O'Neil. He really was that word we toss around like a salad --- a hero.

God bless ya, Buck. You never needed Cooperstown. You were in a Hall of Fame all your own.

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