<body><script type="text/javascript"> function setAttributeOnload(object, attribute, val) { if(window.addEventListener) { window.addEventListener('load', function(){ object[attribute] = val; }, false); } else { window.attachEvent('onload', function(){ object[attribute] = val; }); } } </script> <div id="navbar-iframe-container"></div> <script type="text/javascript" src="https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js"></script> <script type="text/javascript"> gapi.load("gapi.iframes:gapi.iframes.style.bubble", function() { if (gapi.iframes && gapi.iframes.getContext) { gapi.iframes.getContext().openChild({ url: 'https://www.blogger.com/navbar.g?targetBlogID\x3d10043376\x26blogName\x3dJust+Off-Camera\x26publishMode\x3dPUBLISH_MODE_BLOGSPOT\x26navbarType\x3dBLUE\x26layoutType\x3dCLASSIC\x26searchRoot\x3dhttp://justoffcamera.blogspot.com/search\x26blogLocale\x3den_US\x26v\x3d2\x26homepageUrl\x3dhttp://justoffcamera.blogspot.com/\x26vt\x3d1547182701581714937', where: document.getElementById("navbar-iframe-container"), id: "navbar-iframe" }); } }); </script>

Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

A Legend In The Newsroom

Up until yesterday, I hadn't really been awestruck by anyone I'd seen at ESPN. There's a steady stream of athletes, coaches, and sportscasters walking through the newsroom, and although I thought it was cool to see people like Eric Allen, Michael Irvin, Barry Melrose, and Chris Berman in person, I never got really excited about seeing any of them.

A couple of days ago, though, we got word that Buck O'Neil was coming to ESPN and that he'd be doing an interview on ESPNEWS. For the first time, I really anticipated someone's arrival. If you watched Ken Burns's "Baseball" documentary that aired a while ago, you know who he is. Buck O'Neil was a star of the Negro Leagues and, more than that, he is one of the greatest ambassadors baseball has ever known.

Buck O'Neil is 92 years old and sharp as a tack. He would have turned six years old in Honus Wagner's last season in the majors, but he still remembers seeing him play. That's flat-out unbelievable. The other day I was trying to remember when I went to the NHL All-Star Game when I was 10 - that was only 12 years ago - and the details were more than a little fuzzy.

His stories about playing in the Negro Leagues have given modern baseball historians a fantastic perspective on baseball in the first half of this century. He has worked for MLB teams - he was the first black coach in the majors - and he is currently the chairman of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Fortunately, I was working a shift inside the studio today, right by the studio door, so when O'Neil came in, I was probably the first person he saw, and he was as nice as could be, smiling and saying hello.

While he was being interviewed by Brian Kenny (who, from what I could tell, was just as thrilled as I was to see O'Neil), I stopped paying attention to the NHL games that were in progress and listened to what he had to say, because it's not often you're so fortunate to hear someone with O'Neil's experience and perspective speak.

Because the news of the day circled around the Alfonso Soriano trade (apparently he's going to the Rangers for some guy named Rodriguez), a lot of the questions concerned that issue.

I felt a little vindicated to hear O'Neil call Alex Rodriguez the best player in the world, since I've got a long-running argument with one of my former fellow Assistant Sports Editors at the Cornell Daily Sun about who's the best player in baseball. I say A-Rod, he says Barry Bonds. It's nice to know I have nearly a century of baseball knowledge getting my back.

O'Neil was also asked if this was the biggest trade in baseball history. At that, he recalled a blockbuster from years past - 78 years past. Hall Of Famers Frankie Frisch and Rogers Hornsby were traded for each other in 1926. And yes, this trade is bigger than that one, according to O'Neil.

Here's the real kicker - O'Neil said A-Rod compared favorably with Honus Wagner, who many consider to be the greatest shortstop of all-time. How many people in the world have the capacity to judge firsthand something like that? For starters, you'd have to have seen both play, and Wagner retired after the 1917 season. A-Rod wasn't a rookie until 77 years later. Secondly, you'd have to be an excellent judge of talent, and O'Neil qualifies there too, since he's worked as a scout for the Royals. So that would probably make O'Neil the world's most qualified person to make such a comparison.

Hear that? That's the sound of my mind blowing.

The best part about the whole thing, though, was how his visit ended. I wasn't sure whether I should say anything to O'Neil, since I was at work, and I was supposed to be following the afternoon's hockey games. But when the woman with him pulled out a stack of Kansas City Monarchs replica hats and started handing them out around the studio, I couldn't resist.

I went up to him and shook his hand, and told him it was an honor to meet him. At least I think that's what I said; I kind of stumbled over the words. Then I asked him if he would autograph the hat of the team he played for half a century ago, and he did. He also signed hats for Michael Kim and Brian Kenny, the anchors, so I didn't feel so bad after that.

I suppose that hat is worth something, but it's nothing I would want to sell. Buck O'Neil is a baseball legend and someone who deserves to be in the Hall Of Fame, if not for his on-field accomplishments, then for how he has advanced the sport off the field. I'm hanging on to that cap.

He has an autobiography, I Was Right On Time, that I've always thought about reading in the back of my mind. I think now is as good a time as any to finally get myself a copy and find out more about the first person to really impress me at ESPN.


Post a Comment

<< Home