Sunday, October 08, 2006

Rest in peace, Buck O'Neil

Buck O'Neil wasn't a Hall of Fame-quality player or has Hall of Fame credentials as a coach but he belongs in the Hall of Fame. He was a great ambassador for the game and -- most of all -- a Hall of Fame-quality person.

I can't say I met Buck O'Neil. I was too wide-eyed and thrilled to have one of the all-time greatest people in my midst three years ago. I was in Kansas City, Mo., in March 2003 for the NAIA basketball tournament. AUM and Faulkner were both there -- both lost in the first round.

One day, AUM played a 10:30 p.m. game (yes, 10:30 p.m.) and I had all day to "waste." My main planned stop was the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. I didn't plan on what became the visit's highlight.

As I was walking toward the door, the AUM team started pouring out into the lobby. As I chatted with a few of the players, one of the museum officials asked how they enjoyed the museum. They said it was great and asked if Buck was around. He was -- and was more than willing to come down and visit.

His enthuiasm was obvious as he talked up the players and virtually everybody in the lobby. I think I said one or two "yes, sirs" in his direction. The Museum hauled out a box of replica hats for the Kansas City Monarchs. Buck started signing.

Every AUM player, quite a few fans and one awed sports writer came away with a Buck O'Neil-autographed hat that day. Mine is still on display at home and will stay that way.

Thanks, Buck, for all you did. You'll be missed once you're finally inducted into the Hall of Fame. The sooner, the better.

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