I don’t cry. It’s not a rational decision on my part – I’m just not the type of person who cries at things. I’m softhearted, and I get emotional, and I can feel it rising in my chest, but some emergency valve inside me kicks in before it reaches my tear ducts. The only time I remember crying in the last ten years was when I went by myself to see a matinee of the film The Iron Giant. Near the end of the movie – if you’ve ever seen it, you know exactly the scene I’m talking about – I remember leaning forward in my seat, looking at the dark floor in front of me, fighting back the tears. But that’s it.
Until I saw the tribute to Buck O’Neil on Countdown on MSNBC with Keith Olbermann on Monday night. Keith, being a baseball fan, knew Buck and had him on his show before: back in February, Buck was denied entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame. You see, after years of pressure from baseball fans and historians who wanted respect due to the players of the Negro Leagues, Major League Baseball agreed to a one-time-only slate of candidates – if anybody on the list didn’t make it in, they were denied entrance forever. Buck was on the ballot and lost by one single vote.
Remember – Buck O’Neil grew up on a Florida celery farm in the middle of the Depression. He had not been allowed to go to the local high school because of his race. When he became a baseball player, he and his other teammates weren’t allowed to sleep in hotels where white players slept. He lived at the height of Jim Crow era. By the time baseball integrated, he was beyond his playing prime and became a coach.
So when he was screwed out of the Hall of Fame on a rigged one-time-only ballot by a single vote, Buck O’Neil had every right in the world to be pissed, to be bitter, to spit in the face of a sport that he had given his life to and had treated him so badly. But Buck smiled, and said he was just glad to have the chance. Because all he wanted out of life was a chance. With those simple words, Buck personified true honor, dignity, love, and forgiveness, and the world is a worse place now that he’s gone.
When I was reminded of all this Monday night, I sat in front of the television and cried.