Friday, October 9, 2009
They've forgotten you already, Buck! I figured they would. I had no doubt Bud Selig and the lords of baseball would relegate you to an afterthought, just as they did in not allowing you to enter Cooperstown along with your brethren from "black baseball." They asked you to be the face and voice of the Negro Leagues. You obliged. Once you could no longer handle those high-profile duties, Selig and the lords forgot you. What did you expect from them? For they never embraced you during your life -- not really. To all the Negro Leaguers who couldn't get into the Major Leagues, the lords felt shame about the injustices you and your black comrades faced, but injustice carries a short memory. After your death, the lords offered token reparations to these black men who outlived you. Baseball trumpeted what it did, and then, as it always does, it moved on without finishing the messy business that comes with setting a wrong right. Remember some of the words the lords used to describe you? Buck O'Neil was the "greatest goodwill ambassador" the game ever had, they told anybody who would listen. You stood tall as a symbol of what can be good about baseball -- how the sport can bury its sordid past with policies that reflect enlightened thinking. They promised that, in death, you would be their guiding light, their beacon of hope for the game's future. That was an appealing prospect. Think about it, Buck: You would always be someone the lords would celebrate. That's what the lords promised, didn't they? But the third anniversary of your passing was three days ago, and the lords didn't make mention of you. Not a single word came in memory of you, Buck. Not a single acknowledgement that baseball had reason to mourn, because it remains a lesser sport with you not part of it. I wish, though, that this slight were the only one that the lords dealt you and your Negro League brethren this year. Three months earlier, they turned the annual Civil Rights Game into a real baseball game. The lords hijacked the game from Memphis, a Southern city with a hallowed history in black baseball. And where did the lords move the game? They had Kansas City, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh to pick from. Any one of these places would have been an excellent choice. For they are urban cities where the Negro Leagues prospered, cities where civil rights shaped America in meaningful ways. The lords didn't select any of these cities, Buck. They picked Cincinnati. Do you remember how rich the history of black baseball was there? Neither do I, Buck; neither do I. Cincinnati is a lot of things, right? Some people say the city is the original home of professional baseball. The city is not, however, a beacon of hope; it is not a place that has celebrated the contributions black men like you and Jackie Robinson made toward integration -- on and off the playing field. That fact didn't seem to matter to Selig and the lords of the game. They ignored what Cincinnati had been, a place more noted for its racial intolerance as anything else. In picking Cincinnati, they ignored what you had been to the game. They did so even in the wake of promises they made not to. You would always live on in their minds, a public figure as big as the game itself. Selig and the lords said as much, Buck. Now, three years later, you know what they said were lies. Three years don't seem a long time. But if you multiply those years by five score, you will be almost 10 years into another century, and what are the chances you will even be a footnote in baseball history then? The game has a way of remembering the men it wants to remember. The lords see to it. They trumpet Jackie and Joe D. and the Babe and Gehrig and The Say Hey Kid and Hammerin' Hank. All deserve to be saluted from their contributions to the game. Did any of them do more than you did? Did Jackie, even as he was pioneering the dismantling of the color barrier? Yes, his was a hard lot. So was yours, Buck. That's why the lords had promised to remember you forever. Then you saw how short "forever" is. Three years, Buck. That's all it took for the lords of baseball to relegate you to the backrooms -- there along with Hall of Famers Pud Galvin, Bid McPhee, Rabbit Maranville, Candy Cummings, Kid Nichols and Old Hoss Radbourn. Three years, Buck; three years. That's not forever, man.