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Diamond Jubilee
Albert Chen
March 19, 2007
A collection of new books examines all aspects of baseball—with hits and whiffs
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March 19, 2007

Diamond Jubilee

A collection of new books examines all aspects of baseball—with hits and whiffs

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In this engaging and spirit-lifting book, O'Neil—a former Negro leagues batting champ and revered Kansas City Monarchs manager—travels through America in the last year of his life, while Joe Posnanski (a Kansas City Star columnist) tags along. O'Neil spreads the gospel of baseball as well as his own life-affirming mojo. Much like Mitch Albom's Morrie, O'Neil possesses a relentless, infectious optimism. He makes folks feel good. He pretends to remember old ballplayers' tall tales. ("In our beautiful memory," he says at one point, "we all hit .300.") He hugs people a lot. Even when O'Neil gets ambushed on-air by a talk-radio host who argues coarsely that " Jackie Robinson was a sellout," O'Neil protests, eloquently and firmly. Then, in the tense silence after the show ends, he says to his tormentor, "You are my kind of brother."

Posnanski's writing strikes a lovely overall tone, avoiding a descent into mawkishness. While the dark side of the Negro leagues inevitably emerges—players being shut out of restaurants and absorbing ugly epithets—O'Neil's positive nature always endures. During the daylong, bone-rattling bus rides that his peers abhorred, he would just reflect and "watch the trees," he says, thinking, We'll get there. We always get there. Coming from an indefatigably sunny 94-year-old, it seems an instruction for how to live.

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