Joe Posnanski, a former sports columnist for The Star, traveled the country with Buck O’Neil for his book, “The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America.” It won the Casey Award as the best baseball book of 2007. In this excerpt, Joe describes a steamy day outside RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., where Buck was signing autographs with other former Negro Leagues players.
Buck went into the trailer and breathed in the air conditioning. … He saw a young boy watching a video screen. On the screen, there was black-and-white footage of an old black pitcher named Chet Brewer talking at a dinner…
On the video, Brewer told this story:
There was this black youngster who wanted to play for the local white team. He showed up at a game one day, and the manager said, “Get out of here, boy. You know Negroes can’t play here.”
…Well, the player did show up again, and the manager gave in. He gave the kid a uniform, but he told his players, “All right, I know how to get rid of this boy. I’ll find just the right situation, send him out there, and embarrass him so much he never comes back.” In that game, the bases were loaded, two outs, game on the line, and the manager said, “All right, boy, you get in there and hit.”
On the first pitch, the kid hit a long fly ball off the right-field wall. He sprinted around first base. He flew around second. And as he was about to slide into third base, through the cheering crowd, you could hear that manager scream, “Look at that Cuban run!”
The child in the trailer laughed along with the black and white audience in the video. Buck walked over to him and asked kindly, “Do you know why that’s funny, son?” The child looked up, his face slightly red, and he shook his head. Buck said, “I would hope you did not get it, son. See, in those days, in this country, it was better to be Cuban than an American black man. If you were Cuban, you could get served in restaurants. But if you were black and born right here in the US of A, they wouldn’t give you a meal. Isn’t that strange?”
The child nodded. Buck said:
You look back,
Didn’t make no sense.
What people do to each other
’Cause of something dark
In their hearts.
Buck and the child walked around the trailer. …I was looking at Buck. The flushness of his face was gone. His eyes were wide open. He bounced as he walked, and he laughed and talked. …When they finished the tour … Buck almost ran to the picnic table and announced to all the people wilting in the heat, “You know what? It’s a beautiful day. Feels like the sun is on your shoulder.”