Monday, July 28, 2008

Buck O'Neil

No, the medieval theologians control the court.
The only question you ever hear is about
the little dance floor on the head of a pin
where halos are meant to converge and drift invisibly.

It is designed to make us think in millions,
billions, to make us run out of numbers and collapse
into infinity, but perhaps the answer is simply one:
one female angel dancing alone in her stocking feet,
a small jazz combo working in the background.

--Billy Collins, "Questions About Angels"

Among the things I remember from Joe Posnanski's memorable book is how Buck reacted after learning the Hall of Fame had spurned him (four members of the 12-member panel, anyway, which had been formed, in part, to get Buck O'Neil in the Hall of Fame). Something about love. While the rest of America fumed, Buck said he saw this as a blessing in disguise because he wouldn't have known how deeply and widely he was loved if not for the rejection.

That's not quite true -- he was loved by everyone who met him, and surely he must've known. But that was Buck for you, trying to cheer up the rest of us because the world just seemed a better place with more happy faces.

Anyway, the Hall of Fame finally decided to rectify a wrong -- however late and however big that wrong -- by creating the Buck O'Neil lifetime achievement award. Sam Mellinger of the Star has a heartfelt post about it here.

As for me, I never met Buck, but with stories like these (lakewoodroyal, below, posted on Mellinger's site), it feels like I know the man, to the extent that it's possible to know someone without actually having met him. I don't want to overstate things -- there's no need, really, when people the world over have said in plain terms how extraordinary Buck was -- but it seems to me that he valued, above all, doing the small, simple things that add up, accumulating in minds and deeper places, so that when time does come to take inventory of one's life, all those pebbles of good collected over the years form a mountain running alongside that majestic staircase folks mention sometimes, propping up the newly departed and holding his foot as he takes that step across the great divide, leaving the colors of his deeds to split into a million, billion brilliant pieces that then wash over us in all their grace. That's how I imagine it, anyway.

Thanks for conjuring up a good memory, Sam. I'll never forget the day Buck gave my brother and me an impromptu personal tour of the museum on a slow day and he just happened to be there. My brother STILL talks about that day nearly every time we bring up baseball and KC. We showed up shortly after lunch in the middle of the week, only a few people there and just as we were getting started reading through a few of the signs after entering the museum, Buck shimmied up behind my brother and started narrating each sign with a story. When we went there, we thought we'd spend a couple of hours and then head out. 4 and a 1/2 hours later we were walking out stunned at what had just happened and STILL laughing. He didn't think anything of it. Never once wanted to ditch us to see others. He even had people coming up to shake hands and take pictures and would turn around and catch back up with us. My brother, who is a huge Cubs fan, got a kick out of all the stories of when Buck managed in Chicago. I think we could have stayed there all night just listening to the stories. I think what I miss the most was that every time you heard his stories being retold by him, they were never quite the same as the first and always better than the previous time you heard them. I'm looking forward to getting out to the HoF again and seeing that statue.

No comments:

Post a Comment