God's Politics

Editor’s note: Buck O’Neil, who died Friday, was the star first baseman and manager of the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro baseball leagues, the first African-American coach in the major leagues, and a major voice in remembering and recounting the era of black baseball.

Buck O’Neil

Buck O’Neil, at age 94, has passed into the eternal presence of God: the God he believed in, the God he loved, the God he worshipped, and the God he honored by the quality and character of his life – not least his loving acceptance of others, of their inherent dignity as God’s children. His death came in Kansas City, Missouri, where he lived, and where his greatest achievement stands – the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Buck had been hospitalized for several weeks. He died of complications from congestive heart failure and recently diagnosed bone marrow cancer.

Last spring a special committee chaired by former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent elected 16 individuals from the Negro Leagues, but Buck was not one of them, and his exclusion was shocking to his legion of admirers across America. Buck met this stunning news with incredible grace, for his surprise and disappointment must have been great.

When it became known that Buck was out of the Hall of Fame, I reacted, as did many, with astonishment and disgust. I then did three things:

First, I wrote an op-ed on the committee’s unfathomable folly for several newspapers around the country. Next, I called Congressman Richard Neal of Massachusetts to ask if he would introduce a Sense of Congress Resolution calling for Buck’s election to the Hall of Fame. He said he would. Finally, I contacted Andrew Card, then chief of staff to President George W. Bush, to ask if he would lend his support to having the president award Buck the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His response was gracious and encouraging.

In the passing of Buck I lost a special friend, one of the most extraordinary individuals I ever knew. I place him among a small number of people whose lives intersected significantly with mine – Robert F. Kennedy, Malcolm Muggeridge, George Plimpton, Eugene McCarthy, and Charles E. Goodell.

When Buck’s death became known, I received several telephone calls and e-mails of condolences on “my loss.” I responded by saying that it wasn’t “my loss,” but the loss of every person ever exposed to Buck’s magical and transcendent presence – for he had about him an aura few humans ever achieve.

Buck may not have made Baseball’s Hall of Fame. But make no mistake: He’s already in a place of far greater importance, one that greatly transcends the realm of sports – the Human Hall of Fame.

George Mitrovich is president of two leading American public forums, The City Club of San Diego and The Denver Forum. He also chairs The Great Fenway Park Writers Series for the Boston Red Sox.

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