Sunday, October 15, 2006
From news sources nationwide…
Good job, Buck
By Ken Burns
We mourn with deep, deep sadness the passing of our brother John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil. We experience a void in our lives that is so great and wide that it is difficult to countenance how we will carry on without this large and generous man, guiding us always to that which was best in ourselves, what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”
We are so grateful for his skill as a ballplayer: his love of the game and the joy he took at its innermost workings. We are grateful for his confident swing, his sure fielding, that he once hit for the cycle, that he led his league in hitting, that he played with Satchel and Jackie and Josh and Cool Papa and hundreds more, and that his certainty of their greatness helped the rest of the world to know it too. We are grateful for his understanding of men, an understanding that identified and matured great talent like Ernie and Lou and Ozzie, imparting in them a sense not only of the fundamentals of the best game that’s ever been invented, but of its inside joys, its transcendent moments, and the debt we all owe to the men who played for too long in the shadow of Major League Baseball as our country and our national pastime wrestled with stubborn and pernicious prejudice.
We are grateful for Buck’s patience and forbearance and Christian example in the face of that dehumanizing racism. He never let it get to him and never stopped fighting it, fighting it not with the weapons of the enemy--the assassins’ guns, cowardly bombs, fiery crosses and withering rhetoric--but with the gentle language of your savior, with grace and stoicism, and above all a tolerance that goes way beyond the narrow confines of our current politically correct, politically constipated world. Buck liberated himself, not an easy thing to do, and then turned around and for the rest of his life helped to liberate the rest of us: white and black, female and male, young and old, red state and blue. And Buck, we are so grateful.
We are grateful for Buck’s service to those black baseball players who did not have a voice, or did not live long enough to exercise their voices, and therefore could not shout outside of the Man’s House, the Man’s Hall of Fame, to be let in, to share rightfully in the glories of those who occupy the pantheon of the best in the baseball business. Buck shouted for them, and today so many of them are there, safely home, there in that now integrated sanctuary which Buck helped to purify.
We are grateful for that but saddened by the fact that Buck is not among them. We know the sad story, confident its sad secrets will one day be out, but we pledge today that we will not rest until Buck rests, as he so richly deserves, in that quiet village by the banks of that beautiful lake in Cooperstown, N.Y. In the meantime, as we beg forgiveness from Buck for his temporary purgatory, we hope that Buck's many friends and admirers take comfort in the fact that without a doubt, by unanimous vote, on the first ballot, Buck is in our hall of fame--at the top, near the door, his statue an exclamation point of joy and an example for all who have had to wait, all who have been told “no.”
We are grateful for that unbelievable forbearance that Buck showed. He made this--his life and the Negro Leagues--a story not about baseball, but of all of human life, a story that will reverberate down the corridors of history as almost biblical in proportion, And each day of his life he also let us know, every one of us here, that we indeed did have that strength within us, that we merely didn’t ask of more of ourselves, no, demanded more of ourselves; that is to say, what is required simply to live a good and healthy and holy life on this planet. We are grateful for his gentle reminders and vow, Buck, that we will try to be better.
Buck, our angel. We can see him now, rounding third, heading for home, the cheers echoing off the walls, drowning out our sorrow, the congratulations of your teammates--Jackie and Satchel, Oscar and Josh, Cool Papa and Double Duty--bright in your ears: “Good Job, Buck. Welcome Home. Good Job.”