Jeff Herr, a finalist in the 2011 Big Gig Contest on 610 Sports Radio, was born and raised in Kansas City. Following the Chiefs, Royals, and Jayhawks all his life has led him to blog about all three extensively at the-jeff-report.blogspot.com. He has also spent time covering the Royals for the blog site kingsofkauffman.com as well as serving for a period as the lead editor of throughthephog.com a blog covering the Kansas Jayhawks. When not writing about the local sports scene, he pays the bills by serving as an accountant.
Jeff Herr: Celebrating Buck's 100th
by Jeff Herr,posted Nov 8 2011 7:06PM
Buck O’Neil is a special man here in Kansas City. Simply saying the word “Buck” makes most people think of this great man. Buck is a legend in every sense of the word. Were he still alive the legendary Negro League Baseball player (and ambassador for all of baseball) would be turning 100 years old on November 13. In honor of this occasion the Negro League Baseball Museum will be holding a few special events in the coming weekend.
I had the pleasure of meeting Bob Kendrick the President of the Negro League Baseball Museum through an interview on the Royalman Report podcast. Kendrick started working for the museum, as a volunteer in 1991 and 20 years later is the president. Working hand in hand with Buck for many years Kendrick has a wealth of knowledge and stories about the man himself.
Coming in studio to join the crew, Kendrick was able to recount many great memories through his experiences with Buck and the museum. Kendrick was able to recount with remarkable accuracy the great stories that give us an idea about this piece of baseball history and American culture. As Kendrick himself put it the Negro League Baseball museum shows us “America at its worst, and America at its triumphant best.”
I wasn’t lucky enough to have met Buck O’Neil in person. However, I was lucky enough to be alive to see the greatness he brought to this game.
My favorite memory of Buck was from when I was young. I attended a Royals game with my father. This was not a special Negro League memorial game. This was not a special game to honor Buck O’Neil either. This was just a normal summer game. Buck was sitting in what is now known as the “Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat,” and was shown on the jumbotron. The game literally had to be stopped. Just from showing Buck on the jumbotron the entire stadium rose to their feet in thunderous applause.
This was one of the most amazing moments I have ever seen in sports. To see the effect one man can have on so many was truly a special moment. I can live out the rest of my days and highly doubt I will ever see another man affect any sport the way Buck O’Neil did.
You get the feeling for just how special of a person Buck was when you see someone like Kendrick speak of him. Remembering some of the great memories he had of buck Kendrick’s face lights up like a kid on Christmas. Asking Kendrick to recount the Cool Papa Bell story or any other number of moments brings an incredibly large smile across his face.
It’s quite the experience to hear Kendrick recount the stories of the early days of the Negro League Museum. The museum wasn’t always as we know it today. The original iteration of the museum started out as a simple office. In order to keep it up and running Buck and other Negro League alumni would take turns playing the monthly rent. Without this dedication the museum most certainly wouldn’t have survived.
This dedication was necessary so that we all could learn about this part of Kansas City and America’s history. It is through all this dedication that we now know that players had to eat cheese and crackers for dinner on their bus after selling out stadiums, because establishments in those cities would not serve them. As Kendrick pointed out, these were men who “just wanted to play ball.”
Play ball is just what they did. We forget how all these talented players didn’t go up against the giants of the game that we love. Babe Ruth never had to hit against Satchel Page. Ty Cobb never had to try to put a fastball past Josh Gibson. Kendrick can recount the great Pittsburgh team of the 1930’s in which Page, Gibson and others made a team that would have contended in any league or era. These are men that would have been larger than life in today’s game, but were only an afterthought in their time. The Negro League museum makes sure that they don’t remain an afterthought.
Like most people, I have probably taken the Negro League Museum for granted due to its proximity. That said, I have been there and it truly is an amazing place. Some of the memorabilia in there would send chills down any baseball fans spine. The life-size replica baseball diamond in particular is one such great exhibit.
It is real easy these days to forget our past. With the 24 hours news cycle and constant feed of information on Twitter, Facebook, and the like, it’s easy to only look forward. Yet, it is our responsibility to look back at our past. We need to learn from our past and use that knowledge to help us going forward. The point of the Negro League Museum isn’t to look back at all the wrong that was going on at the time; it’s to look at the triumphant spirit that came out of all of that.
Kendrick told one story that resonated greatly about the legend of Buck O’Neil. When the Baseball Hall of Fame was looking at a list of 35 players from the Negro League’s to possibly be inducted, Buck was expected to be selected. Unfortunately, Buck didn’t make the cut. In total 17 players were chosen, but Buck O’Neil was not one of them. When Kendrick told Buck the news he slammed his fist on his desk. This was not done is despair or anger, but in jubilation. 17 of Buck’s friends and fellow players had gotten such a great honor. It didn’t matter that he was not selected; this was an event to be celebrated.
Such a story encapsulates Buck and his exuberance for life and the sport he loved. Buck’s reaction to that news and the Negro League Museum itself are reminders that even through adversity greatness will shine through. Trials abound in life but the greatness is what needs to be celebrated. That was what Buck was all about. This week is a reminder not only of that attitude, but of the greatness of Buck himself. The celebration of his 100th birthday is a special event. It will be a time for reflection on this man and his legacy. It’s a legacy that has brought something unique to Kansas City that nobody else can offer.