Though I follow it passionately, I don’t write a lot about baseball here. This is mostly owing to the fact that, in contrast to those others in the blogosphere who write both more eloquently and/or more precisely about the subject, I generally feel that anything I have to offer runs along the lines of ‘blowing smoke out of my ass.’ I came late and unexpectedly to this passion, and while I have a lot of opinions about it, I feel much more like a student of the game than a sage expert.
Which is why I hesitated, really, to write about the Yankees’s 6-0 loss last night to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series. They’re down in this five-game set now, 2-1, and they must win the next two games or summarize another season as a dismally oversold failure.
As a fan of this team, I find what’s happening in the Bronx to be fantastically criminal: the fact that this exorbitantly costly and extravagantly capable squad can prove so ineffectual. The fact that half a decade of expensive failure has only taught the organization to spend more with each new season — and to pass on the cost to the team’s fans in the form of admission ticket inflation. The fact that the whole enterprise has the feeling of bloat, of over-elaboration, of unnecessary complication, of entitlement and brute force more than determination and passion… the Yankees don’t feel that much fun.
I can’t help myself, though, because I keep rooting for them. I have faith that they’ll pull it off in the fifth game, even though it makes my stomach churn in the meantime to think of how flawed and ill-conceived they are.
Buck O’Neil, R.I.P.
At any rate, I wouldn’t have written any of that today if I didn’t have something more serious with which to give it context. There’s entitlement and disappointment, and then there’s what’s right and real tragedy.
The great Buck O’Neil passed away yesterday evening in Kansas City, MO, at the age of 94. Thanks to a star-making turn in the Ken Burns documentary series “Baseball,” O’Neil achieved a grand and well-deserved notoriety late in life. A negro league pioneer, he had seven decades in baseball, suffered through many indignities and upheavals, and yet still managed to become one of the most thoughtful, unflinchingly positive statesmen that the sport has ever had.
Thankfully, there’s lots to read about O’Neil if you don’t know much about him; one thing the community of baseball has done right since he stepped into the limelight in the 1990s is to learn to appreciate his many contributions to the game. That’s the community of baseball, though, and here it’s important to draw a distinction between this sphere — an unorganized world of fans, scholars and professionals — and the institution of baseball — in this case, The Baseball Writers’s Association of America — which did a terrible injustice to Mr. O’Neil just this year. Quoting from the New York Times obituary:
“O’Neil was among 39 candidates for entry into the Hall of Fame at a special vote in February 2006 to consider figures from black baseball who were not among the 18 previously inducted. Seventeen people were elected in that vote by a 12-person committee, but O’Neil and Minnie Minoso, the only two living figures given consideration, were not chosen.”
It’s a shameful embarrassment that O’Neil’s nomination failed the ballot at all, but it’s doubly shameful that, at the time, it was all but obvious to those voting that this would be among O’Neil’s last chances of being inducted into the Hall of Fame while he was alive. Somehow though, the selectively sentimental dispositions of the Baseball Writers’s Association of America could not muster the votes, which was as much a slap in the face as a telling indication of how much hidden disdain this sport has for the people it wronged many years ago. The Hall of Fame squandered a very special opportunity in that act of extreme idiocy, and now, with O’Neil’s passing, the stain will remain forever.