December 11, 2021
My former father-in-law Walter Slovenski coached track and field at Bates College for 43 years. They dedicated the track in his honor in 1999, when he was too ill to attend.
Former Rochester RazorSharks star Keith Friel‘s father Gerry was the winningest basketball coach at the University of New Hampshire. They named the court in Friel’s honor in 2009. Six months after his death.
The latest example of exceptionally poor timing was the announcement last week that Buck O’Neil had been elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame. O’Neil spent eighty years in the game. He was the grandson of a slave who learned to play in the deep south. O’Neill played close to twenty years with the legendary Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. Using those connections, he became a highly sought-after scout after baseball integrated. He helped discover the likes of Ernie Banks and Lou Brock.
Buck O’Neil founded the Negro League Hall of Fame and Museum in Kansas City. Of it, he said at the time, “We spend so much of our lives honoring the people who crossed the bridge. Today we honor the people who built the bridge.” He could have been talking about himself.
In 2006 a special committee selected seventeen former Negro Leaguers for enshrinement into baseball’s Hall of Fame. O’Neill was thought to be a shoe-in. Instead, he fell one vote short. 95 years old at the time, O’Neil nevertheless, spoke on behalf of the seventeen inductees at Cooperstown. He died a couple of months later. Now he’s back where he belongs. Among his fellow immortals. Better late than never I suppose. But we can do better. We have to do better.