I just finished reading the book October Men by Roger Kahn (who also authored The Boys of Summer). The story is about the 1977 and 1978 New York Yankees, who won back to back World Series. The 1977 season is the basis for the ESPN series “The Bronx is Burning,” and is filled with dysfunctional relationships (Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, George Steinbrenner) which carried over to 1978 also. It was Bucky Dent’s home run in the one game playoff with the Boston Red Sox that immortalized him. I digress…although an interesting book, I was happy to move on to a more heartwarming story (I have about ten waiting to be read) by Kansas City Star columnist Joe Poznanski’s entitled The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America.
Buck O’Neil was a legendary player and manager in Negro League Baseball, and played a major role in establishing the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. I’ve taken an interest in the Negro Baseball as of late, especially after being so fortunate recently to spend some time with former player Art “Superman” Pennington. And reading The Soul, I came across the following segment early on (page 17), where the writer (Poznanski) is telling Buck about his greatest day in baseball. A nice story, but nothing like Buck’s recollection of his own best day in baseball.
“Eastern Sunday, 1943, Memphis, Tennessee,” he said immediately. He opened his eyes. “I was first baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs then. We were playing the Memphis Red Sox. First time up, I hit a double. Next time I hit a single. Third time up, I hit the ball over the left-field fence for a home run. Fourth time up, I hit a long fly ball to right field. As I ran to first, I yelled, “Hit the fence! Hit the fence!’ The…ball…hit…the…fence. It skipped past the outfielder. I ran around the bases. My third-base coach called me home. I could have had an inside-the-park home run. But I stopped at third. You know why?”
“Cycle,” I (Poznanski) said.
“I got the cycle. Single, double, triple and home run. That night I was at the hotel relaxing. My friend Dizzy Dismukes comes to my room and says, “Buck, there are some people downstairs I want you to meet.’ They were teachers from the local school. I walked downstairs and walked right up to one of those teachers. I said, ‘My name is Buck O’Neil, what’s yours?’ That was Ora. And we were married for fifty-one years.”
Buck smiled as he always did when the story ended. “That was my greatest day,” he said. “Easter Sunday, 1943. I hit for the cycle, and met my Ora.”
The Soul of Baseball is shaping up to be a very good read.
Buck died in 2006, a little over a month shy of his 95th birthday.
I can think of several days that could qualify as my greatest baseball days. None of them compared to Buck’s.