This will be about The Buck O'Neil All-Century Team. I'll get back to it in a minute.
A few weeks ago, I was looking through my notes from The Soul of Baseball and I came across a gem -- Buck O'Neil's all-time team. I remember we were sitting in a hotel lobby in Gary, Indiana, and we had some time to kill, and I asked him: "Who is the best third baseman you ever saw?"
He said: "Major Leagues or Negro Leagues?"
And I said: "Both."
And this intrigued him, and so we went through the entire team -- Buck's all-time team featuring players from both the Negro Leagues and the Major Leagues. This was off the top of his head, of course, and so I'm sure that if I had asked him again even a day later, he might have had a few different choices. But it's a really cool team. I meant to put it in my book, but it didn't quite fit and then I sort of forgot about it. For me, this is like finding Bruce's alternate version of Racing In The Street. I'm going to go through it here on the blog in a couple of days. I think you'll like it.
But first, I have a request, something close to my heart. I wouldn't ask if it didn't matter. Buck would have turned 100 this year -- this November, in fact. He didn't quite make it, but he came awfully close. He died five years ago Thursday. Buck accomplished so much in his 94-plus years of life, but he often said that the thing that he was most proud of was his role in starting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. He did not do it alone, not hardly, There were many people involved. But Buck was the inspiration. He had determined at some point that he had to do all he could so that people would not forget the great players of the Negro Leagues, the great teams, the great stories.
In the early years, the museum was a single room in a Kansas City office building (Kansas City is where the most prominent of the Negro Leagues was founded in 1920). And several people, Buck included, would take turns paying the rent. Then, with intensive fund raising, lobbying, canvassing, they built a beautiful museum on the famous jazz corner of 18th and Vine. And Buck would be there all the time to lead tours, to tell stories, to offer hugs and wisdom. Amazing things happened at the museum. Hank Aaron came by and, for the first time, saw a photo of himself as a Negro Leaguer. Willie Mays came. Barry Bonds … Albert Pujols … Derek Jeter … the late Robin Roberts, the Hall of Fame pitcher, called me and asked me to take him on a tour. President Bush came by. Congress gave the museum national accreditation. But probably the most amazing thing was the daily appearance of Buck O'Neil, the stories he would tell, people who were lucky enough to connect with him there will remember it for the rest of their lives.
The museum became so much bigger than Buck ever imagined, and I know that gave him great joy in the last years of his life.
When Buck died -- and this is only my opinion -- the museum lost its way. There's no point in revisiting it now, but a combination of many things, including a bad economy, took the museum to the brink. There were reports of the museum's imminent demise -- I don't know that it ever got quite that bad. But I do think it was plenty bad. And I think the museum still faces severe challenges.
A short while ago, my great friend and Buck's great friend Bob Kendrick took over as the President of the museum. And together with some good people, they are trying to bring the museum back.
All of which leads to my request: The Museum has started a fundraising campaign they call "Buck O'Neil: A Century to Remember." They are asking people to donate $100 -- which I certainly know is a lot of money. But for that $100, you will get something priceless: A plaque with your name on it (or the name of someone you want to honor) in the museum itself. That will be there forever. There are other perks that you can see on the page. And I hope to offer a perk myself, though I'm not exactly sure what yet. I'm sure you will help me think of something.
But, of course, this goes beyond perks. This is a chance to be a part of something wonderful … magical, even. This is a chance to help the Negro Leagues Museum be vibrant for another generation, a chance for it to keep telling the stories of wonderful leagues featuring marvelous baseball players who created the own league to play.
One more time, the page to become a member of Buck O'Neil's All Century Team is here.
And stay tuned for Buck's all-time team later this week. Thank you.