Sunday, October 18, 2020

Buck O'Neil Book Report

 With some extra time on my hands this summer I decided that I'd do a lot more reading than I had been. And I don't mean online. I'm sort of a dinosaur in that I still like the feel of a book in my hands. I'd been looking at The Athletic website (100% worth the subscription cost, btw) and came across Joe Posnanski's series chronicling the Top 100 Players in baseball history, at least according to him. It was a wonderful distraction from the lack of a season in the spring and early summer.

 He did it as a countdown, and while there were plenty of arguments to be made about where he put certain players, there could be no argument that his essays were marvelously written. Just terrific stuff, day after day. If you are not familiar with Posnanski's work, you are missing out.

When he got down to the last ten it was really fun to speculate on who would reign as #1 (it was Willie Mays). But, as I said, every player's story was so well written. Many suggestions rolled in that he publish the entire list in book form. I'd pre-order that for sure.

Soon after the series finished I check and found that Posnanski had written a book about Buck O'Neil. Entitled The Soul of Baseball, it is a travelogue of sorts which follows the year Posnanski spent on the road with O'Neil as the 90-year-old Negro League vet did what he'd been doing most of his life, spreading the gospel of baseball in general, the Negro leagues in particular.

I wasn't sure what to expect but I was bowled over as I read it. Posnanski came to really love O'Neil as they met fans at minor league parks, at baseball gatherings and at funerals of Buck's former teammates and rivals. The book made me laugh and tear up. And it made me do something I don't think I've ever done before...I went back and immediately re-read it. Not every page, mind you, but I dug through to find some of the wonderful stories that the book held. Posnanski shone a light on a one-of-a-kind human. 

Soon after I finished I shipped the book off to someone I know who will appreciate it. My guess is I won't get it back. But that's OK.

Then I went and found an authenticated signed pic of Buck O'Neil for my wall. As the book makes clear, Buck signed a lot of autographs. So many that I doubt anyone would bother to forge his signature. just no profit in it.

Buck O'Neil passed away just about the time the first edition of the book was being published. And that was not too long after the special committee that named many Negro League players and pioneers to the Baseball Hall of Fame but failed to include Buck. O'Neil himself would tell you he was a good, not great player. And while he was the first black coach in the majors, he never got a chance to step into the spotlight as the first black manager. 

But you can't possibly read this book and not see what a travesty his exclusion is. Naming an award after him doesn't make up for the lack of a plaque on those walls.

The book is available for five dollars or less in paper form at various sites. It's probably a $2 download to your Kindle. If you love baseball, or even if you want to feel better about humanity, it's money very, very well spent.


  1. I have a stack of books that are waiting to be read. Sadly... life and card blogs keep me occupied... so it might be a few years until I can get around to reading them.

  2. I've read "I Was Right on Time" which was a great book. I'll have to check this one out. Buck needs to be in the Hall. He's probably the number one snub in my opinion. The first guy I'd put in if given the chance.

  3. I have this book on shelf waiting to get read

  4. Posnanski is a great writer and I used to read his blog all the time.

  5. Big JoePo fan...although I guess if I haven't read one of his books, not big enough. I should probably get this.

  6. I read that book recently too. I liked it. Joe Posnanski is a very good writer, and Buck O'Neil certainly had an interesting life.

  7. Great post! Love Pos and The Athletic, and would like to know more about O'Neil. I'll have to ask for this book for Christmas.