Before I serve the main course, I would like to set the table. Followers of this space are aware that my three knuckleheads, Maddie, Jordan and John, often provide me with inspiration through their questions about sports. In this particular case, inspiration came from another source when I took my act on the road. Confused yet?
My wife’s mother was one of 10 children born to the family of the man that owned a good part of the Olive Grove community outside of Littleton, N.C. My wife was the beneficiary of a little prime real estate and we have a summer home in the area. I’m not trying to diss this community by suggesting it is country, but there are more than a few cows, pigs, horses, foxes, deer, skunks and other four-legged creatures sharing the neighborhood.
October to January is hunting season, and it is a special sight to see a bunch of nimrods flashing by in their pickup trucks wearing day-glo caps. I think they are dealing with the smartest deer in the world, or they have a scout deer hiding in the woods with a cell phone with one message, “Here they come.”
The common denominator is the fact that they recognize me as the sports guru of the group. Their questions often cause me to dive into some research to answer a query and uphold my reputation.
And so, dinner is served. I missed it, but there was some kind of story on TV that mentioned “Buck” O’Neil. I am not surprised that this prompted the question, “Who is ‘Buck’ O’Neil?” John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil’s story is interesting albeit not unique. Buck was born in Florida in 1911, and he soon learned that the segregated South wasn’t designed to offer many opportunities for “Coloreds.” He spent his summers in Sarasota watching the New York Yankees at Spring Training. Baseball was in his blood, but there were no opportunities for people of color.
He satisfied his longing for baseball by playing with the Kansas City Monarchs. He was a quality first baseman, and carried a live bat. In 1947, when Jackie Robinson took the first steps towards integrating Major League Baseball, Buck was too old to be considered. He languished at first base for the Monarchs and eventually became a player-manager. In 1962, Buck made the transition to Major League Baseball as a coach for the Chicago Cubs. He had the distinction of being the first colored coach in the big leagues.
Buck had a winning smile and the blood of a politician, unfortunately he had the reputation of blowing his own horn by bringing other players down. Buck was known to interject, “Are you sure that’s the guy you want?” or “He was pretty good, but I don’t know,” and “He wouldn’t be my first choice.” As these comments cast a shadow on other players, Buck saw his own stock rising.
In 2006, Major League Baseball inducted some of the Negro League players into its own Hall of Fame, but Buck didn’t make the grade. He died later that same year—some say it was from a broken heart.