Monday afternoon, I found it difficult to fight back tears.The disappointment I felt over Buck O'Neil's exclusion from the latest class of Baseball Hall of Fame inductees gave me a pain that I hadn't really felt since the Chiefs lost to the Indianapolis Colts in a 1996 playoff game. Honestly, I'd already envisioned the parties, the summerlong celebration, the caravan of Buck and Negro Leagues supporters driving to Cooperstown, and the Joe Posnanski essay eloquently capturing our collective joy. Yeah, Monday I was angry, even as Buck stood tall, spoke the right words and emitted genuine jubilation over the 17 Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues inductees. But by Tuesday morning, my anger had gone away and made space for an old/new reality. Institutions, no matter how revered, don't define any of us. The Baseball Hall of Fame needed Buck O'Neil far more than Buck O'Neil needed the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Hall and its 2006 induction ceremony are diminished without Buck. Monday afternoon, Buck's stature grew bigger. Buck will be enshrined in life's Hall of Fame. For 94 years, he's been teaching lessons in love. He taught another class in the aftermath of Monday's announcement. It was classic Buck. His cup is always half-full. I hope young people don't misinterpret Monday's message. Sometimes we focus so much on injustice that we fail to discuss the proper way to react to injustice. Buck O'Neil and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum are the perfect reaction to injustice. You know why Buck is alive today, playing golf, driving his Caddy, traveling the globe and enjoying unprecedented popularity and support? Because he never got swallowed by anger, because he never allowed other people's behavior to dictate his behavior, because he refused to view himself as a victim. He's no victim today. Twelve historians who never saw him play cannot define Buck O'Neil's legacy. A selection process that doesn't take into account the spirit of love that sweeps every baseball stadium Buck graces cannot define Buck O'Neil's legacy. The games are played to create human joy. Therefore, Buck is the reason we play the game. Rather than be engulfed by flames of anger because of America's history of segregation and discrimination, Buck found joy and fulfillment in the Negro Leagues. When opportunity arrived, he pounced on it, becoming a major-league scout and coach. When baseball was reluctant to recognize the contributions of Negro Leagues players, Buck devoted himself to promoting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and promoting awareness of players of that era. He built his own institution. He celebrated and protected the baseball history he helped produce. Buck has always loved himself first and never worried all that much about the people who don't love him. They have the problem, not Buck. It's the same thing today. The Baseball Hall of Fame has the problem, not Buck or the people who love Buck. That's the lesson in all of this. That's the lesson I hope mature people pass on to young people. Young people, particularly African-American young people, face far less injustice today than previous generations. But our reaction to injustice isn't nearly as disciplined, appropriate or effective as our elders. We wallow in anger and victimhood. We've created a culture of anger (hip) and rebellion (hop), and in that culture we have foolishly embraced nearly every negative stereotype promoted by bigots. On Monday, Buck O'Neil once again reminded me that self-love is the foundation of all love, and that self-destruction is the natural byproduct of simmering in hostility and self-pity. To reach Jason Whitlock, call (816) 234-4869 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 1, 2006 1:34 PM