As she did then, Ora is waiting patiently on this Aug. 3 night for John—as she calls him—to return. She is sitting in a private box at Kauffman Stadium while Buck and some of the other Monarch alumni sign autographs outside the stands. The demand for the signatures of these once-forgotten players has been so great that they are still signing an hour and a half after the first pitch of the game.
Finally, after about six innings, the men come back from their grueling autograph session. Rather than looking tired, however, the Monarchs, in their uniforms, actually seem younger than they did a few hours earlier. Is it possible, O'Neil is asked, that a little time spent in a baseball uniform can take years off your age?
"You got that right."
Standin' in a corner, 18th and Vine.
Those aren't exactly the lyrics to Kansas City, but on the morning of Aug. 4 they're close enough. Standing in a corner of the Negro Leagues Museum at 18th and Vine are the now familiar team of Buck and Burns. In their own ways they arc eloquent preachers, and they are here to address the audience at a benefit breakfast for the museum. Burns introduces O'Neil as the most remarkable man he has ever interviewed and then adds, "Buck is 82. I'm 41.1 guess that makes me half a Buck."
O'Neil tells a story about his 80th-birthday celebration at his church: "There was all this babbling about Buck O'Neil this and Buck O'Neil that. Just in case any of it went to my head, a young boy I knew came up and introduced his friend to me. He said, 'I want you to meet Buck O'Neil. He's an old relic from the Negro leagues.' I said, 'Son, you are so right.' "
As he almost always does before such an audience. O'Neil tells a Satchel Paige story. He has a lot of them, always making sure that the absent Paige addresses him as Nancy. There was the time Paige heard an opposing player in Denver call him an "overrated darkie." He told Nancy to bring in the infielders and outfielders and had the seven of them kneel around him as he struck out the side on nine pitches.
But as O'Neil points out in the "Fifth Inning" of Baseball, Paige was more than a clown, more than a great pitcher. "A part of Satchel that no one ever hears about," says O'Neil, "is this part of Satchel. We're going up to Charleston, but the rooms weren't ready yet. So he says, 'Nancy, c'mon with me. We're gonna take a ride....' We went to Drum Island [S.C.]. Drum Island was where they had auctioned off the slaves.... We stood there, he and I, maybe 10 minutes, not saying a word, just thinking.
" 'You know what, Nancy?' he says.