The Soul of Baseball
“I remember catching batting-practice home runs, she said. “That was when baseball was still baseball.”
“I don’t mean to interrupt,” Buck O’Neil said, “but baseball is still baseball.”
The above quote pretty much sums up legendary Negro Leagues player, manager, Major League coach & scout, and ambassador for the game, Buck O’Neil. Always meeting cynicism & negativity and turning it on its ear with his unbridled optimism.
I remember the first time I ever played baseball. It was Grade 1 and I ventured out to the sandlot at the back of the school where some of my classmates were playing. I had never seen of or heard of baseball before – I was raised by a single Mom and didn’t really have any exposure to sports. The kids were playing with a tennis ball and I joined in. Despite never having been introduced to the game before, the first time I picked up that tennis ball I immediately knew how to play the game, the rules – it seemed so natural and effortless. From that day forward I fell in love with the game but I never really understood why – or know how to go about articulating it. After reading The Soul of Baseball, I now “get it.”
“Baseball is for the Pastor and Baseball is for the Pimp.” – Buck O’Neil
This book, The Soul of Baseball, has renowned Kansas City baseball writer Joe Posnanski following Negro Leagues legend Buck O’Neil on a cross country journey to find the soul of baseball. The Soul of Baseball revives the game through the eyes of Buck O’Neil, baseball’s greatest ambassador and quite possibly the world’s greatest storyteller. O’Neil’s off-the-cuff stories form the heart of this book that lead to life lessons and an overall feeling of well-being, mostly due to Buck’s infectious joy.
However, the book is so much more than that. This book should be required reading for all baseball fans or anyone considering becoming a fan – most importantly those who do not understand the game.
For a quick bio on Buck O’Neil, check this out. Otherwise, to sum up Buck in a paragraph it would be this:
In time, I would grow accustomed to Buck’s boundless joy. That joy went with him everywhere. Every day, Buck hugged strangers, invented nicknames, told jokes, and shared stories. He sang out loud and danced happily. He threw baseballs to kids and asked adults to tell him about their parents and he kept signing autographs long after his hand started to shake. I heard him leave an inspiring and heartfelt two-minute phone message for a person he had never met. I saw him take a child by the hand during a class, another child grabbed her hand, and another child grabbed his, until a human chain had formed and together they curled and coiled between the desks of the classroom, a Chinese dragon dance, and they all laughed happily. I saw Buck pose for a thousand photographs with a thousand different people and it never bothered him when the amateur photographer fumbled around, trying all at once to focus an automatic camera, frame the shot like Scorsese, and make the camera’s flash pop at two on a sunny afternoon. Buck kept his arm wrapped tight around the woman standing next to him. “Take your time,” he always said. “I like this.” Always.
Whether Buck is regaling the reader on “Cool Papa” Bell (Cool Papa Bell was so fast, he once scored from first base on a bunt) or mentoring a sheepish Ryan Howard (If you got power, don’t hide it for nobody. Swing the bat hard, son) he never loses steam for the duration.
On Page 228, it felt like Buck was talking to me personally when he talked about why baseball was best for kids.
Nothing better than baseball for kids. Teaches them all the lessons. How to be a teammate, how to be a man. Nobody does it for you. Gotta stand up. I remember Willie used to tell those kids in Baton Rouge. It’s better to steal second than to steal an apple.
There is a moment in the book where Buck O’Neil flirts with a much younger woman wearing a red dress. When asked about it he only replied “Son, in this life, you never walk by a red dress.” But with Buck you knew he meant more. He meant that we should never pass up an opportunity to live life. We should not rush by the red dresses, the baseball games, the street musicians, the sweet smell of dessert. We should not stifle or smother our craziest dreams. Buck never did and he left behind one of the most extraordinary lives to show for it. Not only does Buck encapsulate the soul of baseball but he touches on what is at the soul of every human being – wanting to be understood. Good black don’t crack. Order this book online or go to your nearest bookstore and get this book TODAY. I dare you to not cry at the end.
Buck O’Neil addressing the Hall of Fame (despite not being inducted by the sum total of all of one vote!)
Just listen to the magic in his voice.
Again, Buck O’Neil’s bio can be found here.