Vahe Gregorian: Why Buck O’Neil’s President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s Best Memory Comes from a Heartbreaking Day | Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – As precious, fickle, and fleeting as our memories may be, sharing them through storytelling is a way of strengthening, preserving, and even entrenching them.

This has been lovingly demonstrated for over 30 years now at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which still radiates the spirit of true Negro Leagues poet laureate (and, in fact, baseball himself) Buck O’Neil. even 15 years since his death.

Between this ongoing mission and the perpetual energy of the NLBM seeking to engage the public more, it was perhaps natural for the NLBM to launch a campaign asking fans to share their favorite baseball memory on social media using #MyBaseballMemory. – a business he announced on Wednesday with a panel discussion with Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, Jackson County Manager Frank White, former Major League Baseball star Joe Carter (who was signed by O ‘Neil with the Cubs 40 years ago) and former Chiefs star Deron Cherry.

Invited by NLBM President and Buck’s protégé Bob Kendrick, a compelling colossus of romance, folklore, and full-fledged gaming history, everyone shared their favorite memories of the game and Buck… after Kendrick booted up. the pump by invoking what he knows to be one of Buck’s favorite memories:

Opening day with the Kansas City Monarchs on Easter Sunday 1943 in Memphis, Tennessee, where O’Neil struck for the cycle for the first and only time and introduced himself to a woman at a restaurant who would become his wife 51-year-old Ora Lee Owens.

Thus warned, Lucas recalled as a child how present and approachable Buck was and the inspiration he provided to fulfill his seemingly far-fetched dream of the NLBM, something Lucas said promoted the feeling that “we can be. someone, we can be anything.

For her part, Carter thought about how Buck “never had a bad day in his life” and how his stories were so compelling that “you would be bowled over when they stopped.”

But no one could provide a more insightful and moving memory of Buck than Kendrick, who had a galaxy to choose from.

And his choice was perhaps particularly fitting for a day when we could commemorate O’Neil more broadly, re-considering his pure majesty at the overwhelming hour of his snub by the National Baseball Hall of Fame months before his death in 2006. … and, gulp, even rekindle hope that this could be the year when the abominable outcome will be overcome.

Because there is a real chance.

In a statement to FanGraphs in August, Jon Shestakofsky, Hall’s vice president of communications and education, clarified that the Hall of Fame’s “Early Baseball Committee, which is due to meet for the first time in December, will consider 10 candidates comprised of players, referees, managers and executives / pioneers who had their greatest impact in baseball prior to 1950. Black League candidates will be eligible to be considered in this ballot. “

We’ll come back to the question of whether we really dare to hope that the right thing will finally happen… although it would be better late than never “just in time,” as Buck liked to say it was.

But let’s first go to the prologue, and the lasting example, in the fondest memory of Buck de Kendrick.

“It’s bittersweet, but I think my favorite memory is the day he didn’t enter the Hall of Fame. Even though it was devastating,” he said, standing on the Field. of Legends from the museum after the event. “But being there that day to see how this man handled such a big disappointment with class, grace and dignity, I think maybe that was his heyday. And it ended in defeat.

“And so, although it was devastating for me personally and professionally, I grew so much as a result. I learned so much as a result…

“This is the moment in time that I think will stay etched in my mind as long, as my mother would say, as I am in my natural mind. Because it was just an incredible show of strength of character. this will stay with me forever. “

Not that this particular memory does not always pierce Kendrick … and, surely, tens of thousands of others who have had the opportunity to know Buck in person or by extension either at the NLBM or through his rise to stardom in as a fundamental part of Ken Burns’ 1994 Documentary Mini-Series, “Baseball.”

He burst onto the screen and then, as Kendrick said, a charming, sweet man with a twinkle in his eyes and a smile that lit up the screen, a man who had been telling the same stories for 40 years for s ‘see much less in front of people. have been correctly entered.

But the angst of feeling Buck’s pain is shrouded in the reminder of his answer, part of what Kendrick thinks about when he says he always tries to be more “Buck-like” even though he considers himself. still as a work in progress.

That’s why he still talks to Buck every day, even though Buck doesn’t always respond directly.

Because he knows he can shoot Buck in so many ways.

And perhaps above all by reminding yourself that it’s not what happens to you but how you deal with it that is the most meaningful… and memorable, for that matter.

This mentality supported Kendrick and the Museum during the pandemic, and he can think of no better example of resilience than what happened after Buck’s death:

He nevertheless went to Cooperstown to make a will in the name of the 17 Negro Leagues, each honored posthumously.

“And he was there, being their voice,” Kendrick said. “And I still say to this day that it was the most selfless act in the history of American sport. It’s what I hold on to, it’s what I’m inspired by.”

This is also why he both allows himself to hope but braces for disappointment at the prospect of another opportunity in December.

“There is something poetic about it if that (happens); of course everything remains to be seen,” he said. “But I’ve got my fingers and arms and toes and everything else crossed for that to happen.”

He added, “How special would it be for Kansas City and the baseball world if it actually happened?

Special enough that it is suddenly a new favorite baseball memory for many and adds a whole new dimension to this business.


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