My Journey from Negro Leagues to the Majors
by Buck O'Neil and Steve Wulf
Buy it from Amazon from Barnes & Noble
CALL ME BUCK
I was born John Jordan O'Neil, Junior, on November 13, 1911, in Carrabelle, Florida, and a few close friends still call me John, including my best friend, Ora Lee Owens, the beautiful woman I married fifty years ago. I have been called Jay, Foots, Country, and Cap, and also Nancy, which is a story I'll get to involving my friend Leroy "Satchel" Paige. I have been called a few names that shouldn't be spoken, and one time I was called something that made me laugh out loud. A few years ago, they were having a big eightieth birthday celebration for me at my African Methodist Episcopal Church in Kansas City, Missouri. There was all this babbling about Buck O'Neil did this and Buck O'Neil did that. But just in case any of it went to my head, a young boy I knew came up to me afterwards and introduced his friend to me; he said, "I'd like you to meet Buck O'Neil. He's an old relic from the Negro leagues." I said, "Son, you are so right."
I might have stayed an old relic, too, had it not been for another friend, Mr. Ken Burns. Ken was nice enough to keep his camera on me for a long time when he was making his documentary, Baseball, and thanks to that film, a whole new generation of people call me Buck. It's kind of nice to be discovered when you're eighty-two years old.
The best thing about the film, though, was that it gave me a chance to tell folks about the Negro leagues, about what a glorious enterprise black baseball was, and about what a wonderful thing baseball is. Back in 1981, at a reunion of us Negro league players in Ashland, Kentucky, a young fellow from Sports Illustrated asked me if I had any regrets, coming along as I did before Jackie Robinson integrated the major leagues. And this is what I told him then, and what I'm telling you now:
There is nothing greater for a human being than to get his body to react to all the things one does on a ballfield. It's as good as sex; it's as good as music. It fills you up. Waste no tears for me. I didn't come along too early -- I was right on time.
You see, I don't have a bitter story. I truly believe I have been blessed. Growing up as I did in Sarasota, Florida, I saw men like John McGraw and Babe Ruth and Connie Mack during spring training. As a first baseman for the great Kansas City Monarchs, I played with and against men like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell. As the manager of the Monarchs and later as a scout and a coach -- the first African-American coach in the majors -- for the Chicago Cubs, I got to see the young Ernie Banks, the young Lou Brock, the young Bo Jackson.
The first time I saw Ruth, up in St. Petersburg, it wasn't so much the sight of him that got to me as the sound. When Ruth was hitting the ball, it was a distinct sound, like a small stick of dynamite going off. You could tell it was Ruth and not Gehrig and not Lazzeri. The next time I heard that sound was in 1938, my first year with the Monarchs. We were in Griffith Stadium in Washington to play the Homestead Grays, and I heard that sound all the way up in the clubhouse, so I ran down to the dugout in just my pants and my sweatshirt to see who was hitting the ball. And it was Josh Gibson. I thought, my land, that's a powerful man.
I didn't hear it again for almost fifty years. I thought I'd never hear it again. But I was at Royals Stadium, scouting the American League for the Cubs, and I came out of the press room and was going down to field level when I heard that ball sound as if the Babe or Josh were still down there. Pow! Pow! Pow! It was Bo Jackson -- the Royals had just called him up. And I'll tell you this: I'm going to keep going to the ballpark until I hear that sound again.
Copyright © 1996 by Buck O'Neil and Steve Wulf. Excerpted with permission.