Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Classy Buck O'Neil

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum will honor the largest - and perhaps the last - class elected from the ranks of Negro League baseball.

Buck O'Neil will not be among the luminaries selected from black baseball. But the legendary manager of the Kansas City Monarchs of the old Negro American League will be there.

His attendance, alone, is a testament to a gracious man and speaks to baseball's good fortune that he is part of the game.

Never a slash-and-burn militant, O'Neil never showed bitterness about the era in which he was denied an opportunity to play in the majors because of segregation. Nor has he shown bitterness about his continuing to be excluded from Cooperstown.

O'Neil could have latched onto the controversy that arose when when a special committee recommended 17 Negro League-era players, managers and owners be enshrined, but did not include him. Many, many others did. Players, members of the media, historians, even Hall of Famers.

O'Neil, like always, left the vitriol to others. By doing so, he remains what he long ago became - the thoughtful public face of an important, often troubling period in American history.

So when he addresses the assembly that gathers to honor the Hall's Class of 2006, give him an extra round of applause. For Buck O'Neil may not yet be enshrined in Cooperstown, but he is a Hall of Famer in every other sense of the phrase.

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