Last of His Era

Never much of a baseball fan myself; when I was a kid, the concept of standing at a plate while some other kid threw a ball at me was not appealing. There, I said it. Football was more my game - more direct, more action and more tuned into what seems to come so naturally to kids: run around and hit people. Baseball was so sedate in comparison. I could go on; I could tell you how my older brother never really played baseball much and that I tend to trust his judgment.

But baseball was my grandfather's game. Summer vacations tended to line up with visits to my grandparents and those visits always found a baseball game on the set - and it did not matter who was playing. So as I grew older and began to attempt to learn more about this man who was the sine qua non of my existence, I starting watching those games with him whenever I visited and catching a game or two on TV at home myself. It occurred to me then that baseball is - perhaps more than any other sport - the search for perfection; repeated over and over and done in front of an audience and a hostile opponent. Pitchers chasing a perfect game; catchers chasing the perfect pitch to call for every count against every hitter; hitters chasing batting averages and home run titles; infielders chasing error free play and outfielders chasing the perfect hit-stealing, high-jumping or grass sliding catch. There is beauty in that.

Still for many years, that beauty was overshadowed by hatred, the insane hatred by white Americans against a people that has never wronged them. No war has ever been fought by these children of Europe against the sons and daughters of Afrika and yet they hate us so. For many years, that hatred expressed itself in the form of white people proclaiming that they would not allow us to sully "their" game by allowing us to play on the same field with them. And while this same story has been repeated in every other game or endeavor that the white man has ever insisted was his and his alone - from boxing to track to football to golf - no where did it strike more fear in the hearts of white men than to allow Afrikans to compete on the same baseball diamond with them. This fear kept Satchel Page from being on the same field as Joltin' Joe; made Jackie Robinson a household word even to this day for standing up against that fear in the strong, resolute manner that has ever been adopted by Afrikans facing abuse in America; and it is that same fear that kept Buck O'Neil out the Baseball Hall of Fame all of these years. To Afrikans, the question is almost ridiculous to even ask: did Buck O'Neil contribute enough to the game of baseball to be so honored with admittance into the HOF? Of course. Not only has his love of the game been in evidence throughout his 94 years on this earth, in his time he has only brought honor to the game. And all of this for a game that for much of his life, the fathers and grandfathers of those who were yet the latest to disrespect him denied him the opportunity to play on their hallowed fields and against their sainted elite.

The final vote of white supremacy in the game of baseball was cast this past March, when those children chose to validate the decisions of the fathers; when those children endorsed the viewpoints of their fathers; when those children cast their lots with their fathers - and told Buck O'Neil that he was not equal to his white compatriots of the era.

In the end - though those children had not the strength to stand up to the wrongs of their fathers and had not the strength to look Buck O'Neil eye to eye. What does that say about the lessons they will pass to their sons?

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