Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 4. Below are some personal choices for that honor by SI writers.
11/15/2006 06:03:00 PM
My Sportsman: Buck O'Neil
A legend for his career in the Negro Leagues and later as an MLB scout, Buck O'Neil passed away in October at age 94.
By John Garrity
I could write a thousand words and give you a dozen reasons why Buck O'Neil, the great Negro Leagues icon and the Major Leagues' first African-American scout, should be SI's Sportsman of the Year. But I won't. Once you start putting a man's achievements on a scale -- weighing his charm and character, say, against another man's career ERA -- you've pretty much missed the point.
Besides, I don't want to be disappointed again. Back in March, when a 12-member panel of baseball historians, authors and, apparently, nitwits, announced that O'Neil would not be among 17 special Negro Leagues inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame, I lost a night's sleep. I cried real tears. And I was not alone. Millions greeted the news with sadness and disbelief.
"O'Neil may not have made Baseball's Hall of Fame," wrote George Mitrovich, president of the City Club of San Diego, "but make no mistake about it, he's already in the Human Hall of Fame. And his presence there will ensure that Buck O'Neil will be remembered a thousand summers from now."
Fine, you say, but it's Sportsman of the year. I know that. But tell me, who, in 2006, personified sportsmanship better than 94-year-old Buck O'Neil? There he was, at the end of July, standing at a podium in Cooperstown, N.Y., graciously leading the celebration for the 17 posthumous Hall of Fame inductees.
"This is quite an honor for me," he said. "See, I played in the Negro Leagues." Then, in a gesture worthy of a special niche in Cooperstown, he had the Hall of Famers on stage and the thousands in the audience join hands while he led them in song: "The greatest thing ... in all my life ... is loving you."
"There wasn't anything that could break that man's joyful spirit," said my friend, Joe Posnanski, sports columnist for The Kansas City Star.
I'm aware that I may be biased. I live in Kansas City, Mo., where O'Neil starred for and later managed the Monarchs. I sat with him at Royals Stadium on more than one occasion, back when he was a septuagenarian scout and I was a fledgling baseball writer. I played golf with him once. He called me "Stretch" and made me wish that our six-hour round had lasted longer.
But I'm just a back-bencher when it comes to O'Neil devotion. In October, when Buck died, more than 10,000 of his admirers filed past his open casket at the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City. Tributes poured in from all points of the compass.
"Buck helped shape the game," said Hall of Famer Lou Brock. "But even greater, he shaped the character of young black men. He touched the heart of everyone who loved the game."
Is a picture still worth a thousand words? If it is, I say we put O'Neil's sweet, smiling countenance on the Sportsman of the Year issue.
I think there is one positive from the fact he did not get into the Hall of Fame (yet). I learned so much more about this person due to the travesty of him not getting in. The coverage in the media was pretty intense. I know way more about him because of all the stories written. Hopefully, he somehow knows that he earned this fan most likely because he did not get in (right away). I think it is a great choice after all the things I have read and seen about him.
Certainly a great tribute, in a time in which many of our modern athletes and fans alike don't follow or appreciate those that paved the way to their success, what better way than to honor a true sportman, who carried his worth beyond the baseball diamond and into the hearts of many. A Sportsman of the Year should equate to numbers, but Buck O'Neal's numbers translate to the lives he touched. And aren't those numbers better than a few home runs,touchdowns, or points.
i agree 100% that buck o'neal would make an excellent choice for sportsman of the year.......buck was a "giver" all his life & deserves to be recognized for his outstanding contributions to baseball......i never recall him complaining & he certainly had plenty to complain about re: the era he grew up in.....I'll always remember his role in the pbs tv series on baseball......he was so outstanding, articulate & kind it made me a real buck o'neal fan...i lost a lot of respect for the baseball hall of fame when they refused to admit him....this is inexcusable...
BUCK O'NEAL IS THE MAN OF THE YEAR & OF ALL TIME!!!!!!!!!
From a life long baseball fan. There is no other person in today's game that deserves it more. The game lost a legend this past fall with the passing of Buck O'Neil. Mr. O'Neil you will be truley missed in the Greater Kansas City area..
Integrity, Honor and Compassion are all qualities we strive to teach our children. Buck personified these qualities in his actions and his love of the game....He makes for a tremendous example of a SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR..........
.......Too bad Cooperstown hasn't figured it out yet
Thats a great idea and also i cant believe he's not in the hall of fame he's done so much for baseball its undiscriable. One day he should be in the hall of fame but I just hope it would have came when he was alive.
The world is a better place becuase of Buck O'Neil. Everyday he exhibited great sportsmanship and did so in the face of adversity. Buck transcended sports, much like Ali, Bill Russell and Arthur Ashe. He was a national treasure and he deserves to be Sportsman of the Year.
Shortly after the opening of the Negro League Hall of Fame I went as a fan and student of baseball to honor those who came before. While there I saw an elderly man walking around looking at the exhibits with an experts eye. As I approached he turned and I caught his eye. So, I stuck my hand out, introduced myself and asked if he had ever seen any of the games. He told me he had seen thousands of them with a laugh. I was clueless until more than 5 minutes into an hour conversation and tour of the Hall that he was a Buck O’Neal. I had heard of him from books and games but that day he took time to teach a fan with a deep passion for the game what it was like to be black and play America’s pastime under segregation. It was only an hour, if it was that long, but I saw that day a man thankful for everyday and when I asked him what kept him so young he told me this. “Son, my mother told me when I was a boy that I should always leave the table a little hungry. I never over indulged in anything I ever did.” It stuck with me and I cherish that time with him until this day. He would make a great Sportsman of the Year… this year or any of the 93 he had prior,
Every other candidate is just a gifted jock. Buck O'Neill was a gifted jock who was also a true sportsman--indeed, a remarkable human being. Surely, there can be no better choice for Sportsman of the Year in 2006 than Buck O'Neil.
I have been a baseball fan for about 40 years and the class, pride, and sportsmanship displayed by Buck O'Neal at the Hall of Fame induction was an exceptional example of what todays athletics at all levels appears to have lost. Not only would I vote for Mr. O'Neal as Sportsman of the Year, I would change the name of the award to the Buck O'Neal Award.
The class, sportsmanship and style that Buck O'Neal displayed at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony this summer is unmatched in today's world of athletics at any level. Not only would I select Mr. Buck O'Neil as Sportsman of the Year, I would rename the award to honor the man whose qualities define the word sportsman. Thank you Buck O'Neil for the memories. May your star shine brightly as a symbol of America's pasttime.
I was a lucky man to have known Buck O'Neil, not only was he the least bitter man I have ever spoken to, he was by far the most knowledgable. I as well as the author of this article cried a real tear when Buck was excluded from the Hall of Fame, who could have been more deserving? this is a question that will haunt those voters for years to come. Sportsman of the year would be a great honor for this great man.
Looking at all the other nominees on the list, Buck's name really does stick out far and away as best representative of all that is (or at least "can be, but so infrequently is") great about sports and athletes. For example, Steve Nash and Ryan Howard are terrific athletes and (as far as I know) fine human beings but neither has provided even literally a third of the years of excellences and sportsmanship that Buck produced. And Buck's performance at the Hall of Fame ceremony was undoubtedly the best performance by an athlete of any sport this past year.
I meet Buck a few months ago, it was an amazing experience, although his knowledge of baseball was outstanding, his character was his best trait, truly a jewel for sports and I hope his name will never be forgotten. R.I.P Buck
Love Buck ONeil, to say he is sportsman of the year is an understatement, rather he is sportsman and class act of life. I do not want America to now honor a man that never got his due. What he didn't get in life is a SHAME. He should have been placed in the Hall of FAME YEARS ago, to now honor him seems to be more of an example of America's guilt,than true honor, much the same way other minority sports pioneers are honored, long after being hated see Muhammed Ali for an example
Buck O'Neil fits what the Sportsman of the Year should stand for. My father and my son and I travelled to the Hall of Fame Induction ceremony this year for one reason. To see Buck O'Neil speak. I wanted to show my son what the word gracious means. Here's a man, a 94-year old man, who - even after being slapped in the face by being told he didn't belong in the Hall - agreed to speak in place of all those Negro Leaguers who had been elected. He gave his speech, and while it was nearly word-for-word the same speech he always gives, seeing him on a warm summer day once more telling us what it meant to be a Negro Leaguer was magnificent. He even took part in a one-day mini-fantasy camp in order to raise money for the Hall-of-Fame. Buck's health went downhill following his Hall-of-Fame speech and you could make the argument that his rigorous schedule during the weekend contributed to his failing health. Here's a man who sacrificed his pride and possibly his life in order to do the right thing. What other athlete even came close? What other athlete would have even considered it?
Indeed! As a fan of The Game for well over 50 years, I applaud this nomination. It is really a no-brainer... no candidate can match all that he gave us. Personally, I will not renew my membership in the HOF until his plaque is adjacent to Satchel, Josh, Teddy Ballgame, Willie, et al.
Buck O'Neill is Sportsman of the Year. His true sportsmanship was displayed when he showed such class when not selected for the Hall of Fame. He was charismatic, a charmer, and a LOVER of baseball.-J. Bennett
I hope Buck wins it he has been turned down by the sports writers of entry into the Hall of Fame. He has been a great representative of baseball considering what he went through during during his era. A positve man a respectful man, who after being turned down entry into the Hall of Fame went there and spoke. That is great sportsmanship and a good role model for children as well as the athletes playing today. Give the writers more reason to vote Buck in next time. Vote for Buck for Sportsman Of The Year PLEASE!
While I believe that Buck O'Neil's greatest honor is that his name is in his Heavenly Father's Book of Life ("Rejoice because your names are written in heaven" --Luke 10:20).
He turned this year's Hall of Fame ceremonies into much more than speaking for -- and honoring -- the legacy of the Negro Leagues; like a pastor, he led the assembled in a worshipful "love in" which spoke of far more than baseball.
It is sad that those responsible were blind to Mr. O'Neil's earthly contributions to the game of baseball. It would be wonderful if one the the earthly tributes to him was for him to be named as this years Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year.
There are many great candidates for Sportsman this year, but you could not argue for a better choice than Buck O'Neil. In a time when we are bombarded in the media every day with tales of violence, corruption, self-centeredness, and greed, it was always refreshing to see heart-warming stories about good ol' Buck. His life, as well as the outpouring of love and respect for him from millions, is a reminder that there are still many, many, wonderful people in the world.
I live in Kansas City, and it's nearly impossible to describe what he meant to this community - to baseball and non-baseball fans alike. If he doesn't win Sportsman for 2006, SI should create a special "lifetime achievement" Sportsman award for him. Thank you for your consideration.
my only hesitation in pushing for Buck to be Sportsman of the Year is the belief he should be Sportsman of the Century.
I can't imagine a more selfless person who put his fellow Negro leaguers ahead of himself for years to insure via his committee they were recognized in Cooperstown and said, don't worry there's always time later for Buck. Well, I hope the few members of the 12 "hisotrians" the voted against Buck can sleep at night.
He loved his wife, America and the game of baseball. Forget that he won the Negro leagues batting title twice, including the second time afetr he served in the Pacific in WWII.
I think of his photo in SI after he died & on the same page was Clinton Portis in one of his goofball disguises. I look at all the other suggestions for Sportsman of the Year in the same contrast of those tow photos.
SI has a chance to make amends for the HOF travesty.....DO IT!!!!
You've gotta give it to Buck. Nobody has ever been a better ambassador for his sport. I cannot even imagine any of the other candidates even coming close. By honoring Buck this way, you'll send the right message that He is what embodies the word Sportsman.
I know that at this late date the Sportsman of the year has already been chosen. But I hope and pray that Buck O'Neil is the choice. I'm disgusted with the voters for the HOF. What was their reason for not putting Buck in the HOF? If Buck were to become the SOY it would help to right that wrong. It's just a shame the Buck is no longer with us. But I know that he is in a better place. Buck was a great man and a great ambassador for baseball.