By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Tributes Keeping Buck’s Legacy Alive
KANSAS CITY — Even now, months later, it’s an odd feeling to walk into the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and know he’s not there. Oh, Buck O’Neil is here, of course, in many different ways.
His statue is here at the start of the tour; it glares over the Field of Legends. It’s a good statue. It looks pensive. No, it looks more than pensive.
“It looks like you’re mad,” Willie Mays had said.
“I’d get like that sometimes,” Buck O’Neil replied.
His voice is all over this museum, too. You can go up to one of the kiosks scattered throughout and press a button and hear Buck talk about how great a center fielder Oscar Charleston was or how jazz moved people on 18th and Vine just as the Depression was ending.
His voice was always something close to music, wasn’t it? At the end, when the cancer spread, Buck O’Neil lost that beautiful voice, and I think that hurt him more than the pain.
Of course, his spirit and stubbornness and joy are everywhere around this museum — and the museum grows because of that. There are big plans for a Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center — millions of dollars have been raised.
This weekend, the museum will play host to the seventh Legacy Awards. This began as a little event, one so small that major-league players would throw out the invitations before even opening the envelopes.
This weekend, Derek Jeter and Ryan Howard, among others, will attend. It is sold out. This has grown into one of the real events of the offseason. And Buck O’Neil memories are everywhere.
“Buck, Buck, I want you to meet someone,” major-league star Kenny Lofton had said. This was almost two years ago, on a bright summer day in San Diego, and Lofton played for the Philadelphia Phillies. He brought over a teammate, a hulking young man with a shy face.
“Buck,” Lofton said. “I want you to meet the left-handed Josh Gibson.”
Buck looked up at the young man and said, “You’ve got some power, son?”
“A little bit, sir,” the man said sheepishly.
And then Buck said what I later realized was a haiku. He said:
If you got power
Don’t hide it for nobody
Swing the bat hard, son.
The young man nodded. The young man was Ryan Howard. And last year, he hit 58 home runs. He swung the bat hard.
Yes, you can still feel Buck O’Neil when you walk into this museum. But it feels strange. You keep waiting for him to come out and say: “You know, it’s always good to see you,” like he always did. You can almost hear him say it now. Almost.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. On Thursday, one of his old friends walks over and hugs me, and she says, “Every time I walk in here I expect him to come running up. And it’s always a kick in the head when I remember that he won’t.” Others nod.
We had come to the museum to hear the Kansas City Royals make a big announcement. They are going to honor Buck O’Neil in a beautiful way.
This season, they are going to have a special person sit in his seat behind home plate. It will be someone different every game. The seat will be reserved for someone who — big or small, loud or quiet — embodies the spirit of Buck O’Neil. It will be a seat for heroes.
This is a brilliant idea first brainstormed by Royals president Dan Glass. I cannot imagine a better tribute to Buck.
So if you are interested in nominating someone to sit in the Buck seat (and the winners get four tickets), you can fill out a form on www.kcroyals.com or send your nominations — 100 words or fewer — to Kansas City Royals, Attn: Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat Program, P.O. Box 419969, Kansas City, MO, 64141.
For those of you who sent me nominations — and many of those were amazing — I have handed those on to the Royals, and they will be considered.
The Royals also donated $100,000 to the Education and Research Center. Royals Hall of Famer Frank White and general manager Dayton Moore and others talked a little bit about how much Buck O’Neil meant to everyone.
It was a nice day. We’ve all heard these tributes many times since he died in October, but somehow in that setting, in that museum, I missed my friend very much. There, in that museum, it just seemed as if Buck would come out any moment and say, “Give it up!”
And then, like always, he would hug everyone, lingering a little longer with the ladies. He would ask how an American soccer team could afford to pay David Beckham $250 million. He would talk about Mark McGwire and the Baseball Hall of Fame. He would ask what the Chiefs should do. It was always loud around Buck O’Neil.
Instead, the press conference ended quietly, and everyone posed around a seat and near a photograph of Buck. I once asked Buck how he dealt with the sadness of losing friends — he went to so many funerals in his long life. He said, “I think about the good times.”