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Buck O'Neil's Lesson on Dealing With Defeat Like a Man

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
October 30, 2023 3:01 am

Buck O'Neil's Lesson on Dealing With Defeat Like a Man

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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October 30, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, in 2021, former Negro Leauge Baseball player Buck O'Neil was finally made it into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, years after being rejected, to the surprise of his friends, by one vote. Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, tells the story of how Buck handled this loss, in Bob's words, "like a man".

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Dive in deeper at Bose.com forward slash iHeart. And we continue with our American stories. Up next, a story from Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. Today, Bob shares with us a story about one of his friends, Buck O'Neill.

Take it away, Bob. Our guests walk into the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and you literally walk through the turnstiles into an old ballpark. And the first thing that you see is the field. The Field of Legends. And the Field of Legends is a mock baseball diamond that houses 10 of 12 life-sized bronze sculptures of Negro League greats, and they are cast and positioned as if they were playing a game. Now, on the outside looking in is my dear friend, the late great Buck O'Neill, who was the only one of our collection of statues that wasn't in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Well, thankfully, on December 5th of 2021, Buck O'Neill received enough votes to now be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, 15 years after he missed by one vote.

I'll never forget that day, as long as my mother would say, I'm in my natural mind. It was the morning of February 27th, 2006, and Buck O'Neill and I left home with suitcases packed with airline tickets that the Hall of Fame had purchased for us. That's how sure we were that Buck was going to get in.

This was just a mere formality. And so there was a group of 12 Negro League historians, researchers, educators. They were to gather down in Tampa, Florida, where they were going to make the decision on the final group of Negro Leaguers who had gone through the process and made the final ballot.

The late great Buck O'Neill and now the late great Minnie Minoso were the only two living names on that list. And so we were going to fly. After the announcement, Buck and I would fly down to Tampa, where he would participate in a press conference the very next day.

And so at that time, I was the marketing director for the museum. And so I had broken a deal with our partner, then Sprint, now T-Mobile, and they had provided a Sprint phone for me and a Sprint phone for Buck. And so we're going to take the Hall of Fame call on the Sprint phone, and then Sprint was going to pay us a bunch of money to help build the Buck O'Neill Education and Research Center. And so the call was supposed to come to me that morning at around 11 o'clock.

Well, 11 o'clock rolls around. I don't get a phone call. About noon, my colleague, Dr. Ray Doswell, who was one of the 12 people who had gathered there in Tampa to make this decision, he calls and says, Bob, this thing is looking really tight. We've done strong vote, and Buck is coming up one vote shy.

Former Commissioner Faith Vinson, who was overseeing the committee, didn't have a vote. He was overseeing the committee, says he's reconvened us so that we can talk specifically about Buck O'Neill and Minnie Minoso, the only two guys that were still alive on this list of 30 plus. Well, my good friend Joe Posnanski was sitting right where you're sitting, and as Joe had come out, I said, hey, man, I just got a call from Ray.

He says this thing is looking tight. Buck is coming up one vote shy. He's in disbelief.

Finally, around 2 o'clock, I get a call from Jeff Idelson. Jeff Idelson was then the Vice President of Marketing for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and Jeff calls me and he says, Bob, Buck didn't get enough votes. And I felt like someone had kicked me in my gut, because now I've got to come back in this conference room and tell my friend that he didn't get enough votes when I know in his heart he thought he was in.

Why wouldn't he? And so I come back in. I excuse a few folks. Buck was seated right there at the head of the table, and I sit down, and I am literally trying to collect my thoughts. I don't know how I'm going to tell him. And so I finally look up at Buck, and I say, well, Buck, we didn't get enough votes. And he looks up at me, and he smiles. He said, well, that's how the cookie crumbles. And in the next voice, he asked me how many had gotten in.

I said 17. Now, I'll be honest, I was furious, because in my mind, you couldn't put 17 in and leave Buck out. He hits the table in utter jubilation. He is excited that 17 of his colleagues had gotten their rightful place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Now, as a steward of this story, I should have had that same kind of feeling, but I was upset because my guy didn't get in. And he asked me who they were, and at that point in time, I didn't have that information. And the next words that came out of his mouth, I wonder if the Hall of Fame will invite me to speak. Now, my friend Joe Posnacki, my brother, he's turned beet red, and he looks at Buck, and he says, Buck, you wouldn't do that, would you?

And Buck says, Joe, of course I would. What has my life been about? And I said, well, Buck, I need to go downstairs, because downstairs we had well over 300 plus people who had gathered for what we all thought was going to be a Hall of Fame celebration announcement.

Well, as I oftentimes tell this story, from this conference room to the Field of Legends, where we had the podium set up at second base, was the longest walk of my life. I was literally coaching myself. Bob, you can't cry. Whatever you do, you can't cry. You got to suck it up. Now, the more I'm telling myself not to cry, tears of steady building in my eyes.

I get to the podium, and this is the honest to God's truth. I have no idea what I said. I've never gone back to watch the video.

I don't know if I ever will. Whatever it was that I said, there wasn't a dry eye in the room. People were openly emotional, and this wasn't disappointment. This was outrage. This was anger.

How dare they? And Buck walks in through our gift shop, and the room erupts into a thunderous ovation. And Buck O'Neal walks up to the podium and delivers one of the most amazing concession speeches that I'd ever heard. And what he did that day was he literally implored all of us not to be angry, not to be bitter, not to express any ill will toward anyone who had anything to do with this decision.

He said, I had an opportunity. And in this great country of ours, that's all you could ever ask. They didn't think old Buck was good enough. We got to live with that.

If I'm a Hall of Famer in your eyes, that's all that matters to me. Just keep on loving old Buck. Now, I'm over in the corner at this point in time. I'm a wreck. You know, tears are just streaming down my face uncontrollably. But what Buck O'Neal did that day was he literally reached out his arms and wrapped them around all of us and said, it's okay. Instead of us consoling him, he's consoling us in what I still say to this day to be one of the most amazing displays of strength of character that I had ever witnessed. He would push aside his disappointment, go to Cooperstown, deliver this incredible speech on behalf of 17 dead folks when the world was saying this should be your induction speech in what I still say today was the most selfless act in American sports history. What Buck O'Neal did that day was he literally gave us a lesson on how to handle disappointment because he handled it so graciously that people thought he wasn't disappointed. But of course he was. The Hall of Fame represents the pinnacle for any athlete and Buck knew he was sick at that time.

Just over two months later, my friend Buck O'Neal passed away himself at age 94, a month shy of his 95th birthday. This was going to be his swan song even though he never complained, even though he understood what his health situation was like and what the doctors had already prepared him for. And so, yeah, he handled the disappointment, well, he handled it like a man. And so he was never going to be so sullen about his rejection that he couldn't be genuinely joyous for those who had gotten their place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. And so, I'm trying to be more Buck-like. And a terrific job on the storytelling by Monty Montgomery and a special thanks to Bob Kendrick. What a terrific voice. And he was telling the story of Buck O'Neal, who if you watched Ken Burns documentary on baseball, Buck O'Neal stole the show.

He chewed up all the scenery. And by the way, if you want to hear the remarkable speech he gave in Cooperstown, New York, you'll see a man that you'd want to emulate and be. By the end of his speech, he had athletes, famous ballplayers, announcers and family members of Jackie Robinson and ordinary fans holding hands and singing and praising the idea of love and of God.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-10-30 04:28:20 / 2023-10-30 04:33:24 / 5

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