Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip through Buck O'Neil's America
  • Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip through Buck O'Neil's America
  • Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip through Buck O'Neil's America

Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip through Buck O'Neil's America

4.7 15
by Joe Posnanski
     
 

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"What was your best day in baseball?"

When ninety-three-year-old Negro Leagues legend Buck O'Neil asked his friend this question, Kansas City sports columnist Joe Posnanski found that he did not have a clear answer. Posnanski could not help but think about steroids and large egos and so many of the negative things that had begun to identify big-money

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Overview

"What was your best day in baseball?"

When ninety-three-year-old Negro Leagues legend Buck O'Neil asked his friend this question, Kansas City sports columnist Joe Posnanski found that he did not have a clear answer. Posnanski could not help but think about steroids and large egos and so many of the negative things that had begun to identify big-money baseball. But O'Neil insisted that he look deeper, and Posnanski then remembered the warm summer evenings of his childhood and playing catch with his father until they had to throw the ball high to see it against the dying light.

"Hang on to your day," Buck O'Neil said. "If you hang on to your day, you will stay young."

With that, O'Neil led Posnanski on a cross-country journey to discover the soul of baseball—and a few secrets of life along the way. O'Neil had lived and played baseball during a time when African Americans were not welcome in the Major Leagues. But he held no bitterness. Instead, he remembered nights filled with hot jazz and sunny afternoons of playing baseball with brilliant players such as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Turkey Stearnes. "I lived, man," O'Neil said.

In The Soul of Baseball, Posnanski revives the game through the eyes of Buck O'Neil, baseball's greatest ambassador. They traveled from New York to San Diego, Atlanta to Chicago. They crossed paths with Hall of Famers like Willie Mays, Roger Clemens, and Monte Irvin. They watched kids play on a small diamond on the Kansas prairies and millionaires play at Major League parks. O'Neil's stories form the heart of this book—the day he hit for the cycle and also met his beloved wife, Ora; the time he savedBilly Williams's career; and how he kept a promise to Hilton Smith to get him into the Hall of Fame. O'Neil also shared the wisdom and joy of his years—with Buck anything could lead to a life lesson, even something as simple as a baseball tossed into the stands or a woman wearing a bright red dress.

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Editorial Reviews

"If I'm a Hall of Famer for you, that's all right with me." Negro League baseball star and major league coach John "Buck" O'Neil (1911-2006) took life as it came, enjoying the game he loved deep into his 90s. He was not only the scout who signed Hall of Famer Lou Brock; he was the first African American to coach in the big leagues; and at the age of 94, he actually made two plate appearances in a minor league all-star game! In The Soul of Baseball, Buck's friend Joe Posnanski recounts his trip around "baseball America" with a legendary star and a sweet man. A must for every baseball fan.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060854034
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
02/27/2007
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.97(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Warming Up a Riff

We were in Houston in springtime. We sat in a ballpark under a sun so hot the seats melted beneath us. There is something honest about Houston heat—it comes at you straight. It does not drain you like the Washington humidity or try and trick you like dry heat in Phoenix. In Houston, the heat punches you in the gut again and again. Buck O'Neil was wilting.

"I'm ready to go back to the hotel whenever you are," Buck said to no one in particular, but mostly to me. We were at a ballgame. The baseball season had just begun. Before our road trip ended, Buck and I would go to many ballgames together. We would spend a full year, winter through winter, rushing to Buck's next appearance, ballpark to hotel to autograph session to school to hotel to museum and back to ballpark—thirty thousand air miles and another few thousand more on the ground. We traveled around America. Buck talked about baseball.

In time, I would grow accustomed to Buck's moods, his habits, his style, the way he wore his hat, the way he sipped his tea, the way he walked and talked, and the way he dressed. Buck splashed color. He wore bright crayon shades: royal purple, robin's-egg blue, olive green, midnight blue, and lemon yellow. He wore pinstripe white suits, orange on orange, and shoes that perfectly matched the color of his pants. He never wore gray.

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 women standing next to him.

"Take your time," he always said. "I like this." Always.

"Man, it's hot in Houston," Buck said, and he launched into a story about one of his protégés, Ernie Banks, the most popular baseball player ever to take Wrigley Field on the North Side of Chicago. Banks played baseball with unbridled joy. They called him "Mr. Cub." Funny thing, when Banks first signed with the Kansas City Monarchs—Banks was nineteen then, it was 1950—he was a shy kid from Texas. He sat in the back of the team bus and hardly spoke—"Shy beyond words," Buck called him. Buck was the manager of that Monarchs team, and he would say to Banks, as he said to all his players, "Be alive, man! You gotta love this game to play it."

Ernie Banks embraced those words. He opened up. His personality emerged. "I loved the game more," he would say. Then he was drafted into the army. When Banks joined the Chicago Cubs three years later, he had become a new man. He ran the bases hard, he swung the bat with force, he banged long home runs, he dove in the dirt for ground balls. He smiled. He waved. He chattered. He played the game ecstatically. He was the first black man to play baseball for the Chicago Cubs, but his joy transcended color. In the daylight at Wrigley Field, Ernie's joy brought him close to all the shirtless Chicago men who drank beer in the bleachers behind the ivy-covered walls. Ernie's joy brought him close to the men and women who came to the ballgame to get away from the humdrum of daily life. Ernie's joy brought him close to all the fathers and sons in the stands who dreamed of playing big-league ball. They dreamed of playing ball like Ernie Banks.

"I learned how to play the game from Buck O'Neil," Banks would say. Buck said no, Ernie Banks knew how to play, but what he did learn was how to play the game with love. Banks began each baseball game by running up the dugout stairs, taking them two at a time. He then breathed in the humidity, scraped his cleats in the dirt, and shouted what would become his mantra: "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame. Let's play two."

Buck remembered a July game Banks played in Houston. That was 1962 at old Colt Stadium. Buck O'Neil was a coach for the Cubs then, the first black coach in the Major Leagues. That Houston sun beat down hard on an afternoon doubleheader. Buck watched Banks run up the dugout steps, two at a time, he breathed in the humidity, he scraped his cleats in the dirt, and he said his bit—Beautiful day, let's play two. Ernie Banks fainted before the second game. That's Houston heat.

Buck was ninety-three years old. People often marveled about his age. Buck never turned down an invitation to speak, and he never said no to a charity, and he often appeared at three and four events a day. And it was amazing: Buck always seemed fresh and alive and young. Only those close to him understood that it was an illusion, that he worked hard to stay young. He took catnaps on the car rides between appearances. He ate two meals a day as he had for seventy-five years. He often showed up for an event, waved to the crowd, spoke for a few minutes, and then excused himself. "Where did Buck go?" people would ask. By the time they had noticed him missing, Buck had already collapsed in his hotel bed.

The foregoing is excerpted from The Soul of Baseball by Joe Posnanski. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

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What People are saying about this

Leigh Montville
“This book is flat-out terrific...If Gandhi had played baseball, he would have been Buck O’Neill.”
Bob Costas
“Imagine, a year spent with Buck O’Neil...you don’t have to imagine it, it’s all here.”
Dave Barry
“[A] poignant, very funny, and ultimately inspiring book.”
Harvey Frommer
“[A] loving, lyrical effort by Joe Posnanski. One of the most original and winning baseball books in recent years.”

Meet the Author

A senior writer at Sports Illustrated, Joe Posnanski has twice been named the Best Sports Columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work at the Kansas City Star. He is the author of The Good Stuff and The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neil's America, which won the prestigious Casey Award for best baseball book of 2007. His work has also been anthologized in Best American Sports Writing, and he lives with his family in Kansas City, Missouri.

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Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip through Buck O'Neil's America 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
DocFEmeritus More than 1 year ago
Very nice book and full of history of Negro Leagues and the treatment of black players, set against the story of Buck Leonard's campaign for Negro League stars to get into the Hall of Fame and his exemplary character. He is the kind of person that we all should try to be. After years of putting up with discrimination, and doing it with class and calm, he continued to do so into his 90's. We can all learn tolerance, forgiveness, acceptance and goodness from Buck. The book documents it all. great read and great book about a great human being!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great book about a baseball legend8who gave back a great deal to the game.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Buck O'Neil was truly an amazing man. He was an American treasure. Despite having to face to indignities of Jim Crowe and the farce that was seperate but equal, Mr. O'Neil lived his life with an abundance of optimism. He always treated others with kindness and respect. This man was a role model. If my children grow up and have a quarter of the character/integrity of the late Mr. O'Neil, I will be elated.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read on traveling for a year with Buck, Mr. Negro Leagues and his positive outlook on life.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
A splendid collection of stories not just nostalgia, but history of the most enjoyable and enduring sort. Buck O'Neil continues to be one of our most valuable citizens, and Joe Posnanski is a talented writer, and an exacting listener.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What shines through from this book is the grace, humility and class of Buck O'Neill. Posnanski, having failed in attempts to write about the Negro Baseball Leagues, succeeds better than he ever could have imagined by describing them through Buck O'Neill's stories. A lovely book and a very easy read. I found myself smiling the whole way through.