My favorite baseball book (and I’ve read a lot of baseball books) and one of my favorite books of all time is The Soul of Baseball in which Joe Posnanski, my favorite sports writer, followed Negro League player Buck O’Neil around the country as a very elderly Buck did appearances at major and minor league parks and wherever else he was invited to share stories of the Negro League and the great ballplayers who played in it.
This is one part of a post Posnanski wrote as he was leaving Kansas City, Buck’s home
Buck’s optimism was inspiring, but his selflessnes and his willingness even as a 90-year-old man to travel the country to share the story of his brothers in the Negro leagues is amazing. Most amazing was his loyalty to them to the end. Even when the Hall of Fame didn’t recognize Buck, but asked to go so he may tell the stories of those who were inducted.
We all have our pride. But Buck put his pride to the side in order to support and acknowledge the men who baseball history forgot — because that was who he was, and he never let pride or weariness or injustice diminish his optimism.
Buck’s life was a life of injustice. He wasn’t allowed to play in the Major Leagues. He was not allowed to manage in the Major Leagues. He was finally allowed to coach, but not even in a position that would put him on the field during a game. But he never stopped loving the game even if he didn’t have the same access to it other men did.
No where in the Bible are we promised justice but we are instructed to love. Buck loved the game, he loved people, he always focused on his blessings, not the injustices he suffered.
In his Hall of Fame speech Buck said,
And I tell you what, they always said to me Buck, “I know you hate people for what they did to you or what they did to your folks.” I said, “No, man, I — I never learned to hate.” I hate cancer. Cancer killed my mother. My wife died 10 years ago of cancer. (I’m single, ladies.) A good friend of mine — I hate AIDS. A good friend of mine died of AIDS three months ago. I hate AIDS. But I can’t hate a human being because my God never made anything ugly. Now, you can be ugly if you wanna, boy, but God didn’t make you that way. Uh, uh.So, I want you to light this valley up this afternoon. Martin [Luther King] said “Agape” is understanding, creative — a redemptive good will toward all men. Agape is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. And when you reach love on this level, you love all men, not because you like ’em, not because their ways appeal to you, but you love them because God loved them. And I love Jehovah my God with all my heart, with all my soul, and I love every one of you — as I love myself.
And finally if you’d like to read a few more stories about Buck (without committing to The Soul of Baseball), here is Joe Posnanski’s obituary for the man he said influenced his life more than any man but his father.
What can baseball teach us about Agape? About Love? About forgiveness?