O'Neil deserves all honours

BOB ELLIOTT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

Grover (Deacon) Jones knows.

So, too do Reggie Sanders and Royce Clayton.

Most everyone knows what a special man Kansas City's Buck O'Neil was, how he should have been included amongst the 17 Negro Leaguers inducted into Cooperstown in July.

Everyone knew but the special selection committee. If you are unsure, you must read The Soul of Baseball, A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neil's America, written by Joe Posnanski.

"God kept Buck alive to tell the accurate story of the Negro Leagues," said Jones, a super scout with the Baltimore Orioles.

Crushed on the inside, O'Neil, 94, accepted an invite to speak at the induction ceremonies and was outstanding. As usual.

"That was Buck," said Sanders, the free-agent outfielder O'Neil recruited to play for the Royals in 2006. "What Buck accomplished in baseball went beyond the call of duty. I thought it would be 100% yes, we want you in."

Kansas City's beacon of joy, a former Negro League legend, was discovered by North America in the Ken Burns' 1994 PBS special, Baseball.

No matter the unjust slights O'Neil received in the deep south he remained upbeat. He wasn't a glass-half-full guy. He could look at a glass with a drop of water and see it overflowing. He could cheer you up in a hummingbird's heartbeat.

"I don't believe Buck O'Neil had a single bone of hate in his body," Jones said. "Baseball is remiss for not having him in the Hall of Fame."

O'Neil started his career in the 1930s and was a career .288 hitter in the Negro Leagues. He became the first black coach in the majors in 1962 with the Cubs, helped develop the Negro League museum in Kansas City, served on the Hall's Veterans Committee for two decades and sold baseball.

Clayton remembers O'Neil telling him why Satchel Paige always called O'Neill Nancy.

Buck and Satchel were in the lobby of Evans Hotel in Chicago in when Satch's gal, Nancy, arrived to see Paige. The two headed upstairs. Moments later a cab showed and Satchel's wife, Lohoma, jumped out.

Buck met her, took her bags to the bellman and told him to take them upstairs, with news Paige's wife was in the lobby.

Satch went down a fire escape and walked into the lobby. Much later after midnight, Buck heard Paige's hotel door creak open. Satch knocked and whispered "Nancy?" No answer. He repeated "Nancy?" again and again.

Buck reached his door as he heard Satch's door creak open a second time. It had to be Lohoma. It went like this:

Buck: "Satch you want me?"

Satchel: "Yes, Nancy, what time is our game tomorrow?"

The book tells of former Negro Leaguer Willard Brown pinch-hitting for the 1947 St. Louis Browns. Facing future Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser of the Detroit Tigers, Brown didn't have a bat nearby, so he grabbed Jeff Heath's.

Brown drove a ball off the No. 4 in the 428 sign at Sportsman's Park in centre and scooted around with an inside-the-park homer, the first home run hit in the AL by a black person.

There wasn't joy in the Browns dugout. Not only was Brown ignored, but Heath, of Fort William, Ont., picked up the bat and smashed it against the wall as a display of pure hatred.

The Royals will honour Buck, who died Oct. 6, 81 times this season. His seat in the scouts' section at Kauffman Stadium is painted red. Each game, someone from the community who represents Buck's spirit sits there. Sanders calls it a wonderful idea for every day heros like firemen and teachers.

Sanders says Warren O'Neil, 89, Buck's younger brother was the first in the Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat opening day. People applauded, cheered and some cried.

Buck was a gentle, kind man, whom we first met in 1987 during a rain delay. When we finished the sun was shining. We enjoyed subsequent conversations.

In the interest of full disclosure we should tell you we once had dinner with author Posnanski and our good friend Bob Dutton, of the K.C. Star, in Scottsdale, Az., in 2006.

Posnanski is not a good friend. He can flat-out write. How good is his book? It's right there with Robert Creamer's The Babe or Mark Winegardner's Prophet of the Sandlots.

It's so good we'd carry Posnanski's luggage through La Guardia on the travel day before Game 3 of the World Series. Well his carry on, maybe.

A word of caution. This book should not be read on an airplane unless you want a flight attendant offering you Kleenex and asking why your shoulders are shaking.


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