It's Friday, August 5, 2022, the day of the week when I pass along a quotation intended to be uplifting or enlightening. Today, I have quotations from two baseball players, Buck O'Neil and Minnie Miñoso, both of whom made their reputations in the old Negro Leagues that predated Jackie Robinson's breaking of Major League Baseball's shameful color barrier.
Nine years ago today, President Obama paid homage to players from this era in a touching White House ceremony.
Like the heroes of the Greatest Generation, the gladiators of America's segregated baseball diamonds were already leaving us at an alarming rate when a group of them visited the White House in 2013.
The great Satchel Paige departed this vale in 1982. Judy Johnson passed away in 1989; James "Cool Papa" Bell died in 1991; Ray Dandridge in 1994; Willard "Home Run" Brown in 1996; and Buck Leonard in 1997. And it was 16 years ago today when Negro League star and black baseball historian John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil was admitted to a Kansas City hospital. Some of us thought Buck O'Neil was too resilient to die, but it doesn't work that way: Two months later he was gone. He was eulogized in Congress and honored by presidents.
It was on a much earlier August day that a sportswriter and promoter from Kansas brought a racially integrated sandlot baseball team from Bismarck, North Dakota, to Wichita for a tournament.
The promoter's name was Raymond Harry Dumont, but everyone called him, "Hap." In Tom Dunkel's marvelous book, "Color Blind," he is described this way: "His manner was so relentlessly sunny-side up, that by the time he was six, friends were calling him, ‘Happy,' soon shorted to ‘Hap,' a name he would never shake."
In August 1935, he had no reason to shake it. Dumont offered Paige $1,000 to bring his barnstorming Bismarck team to Wichita -- a sum Hap didn't have, and couldn't raise unless the tournament drew big crowds. It did exactly that, though, with Satchel Paige as the main draw. In the championship game, Paige struck out 14 batters to lead his team to victory.
Today, Satchel Paige is often portrayed as a happy-go-lucky type, a kind of a black Yogi Berra. But Paige, like Berra, was serious on the baseball diamond. He also knew that by besting teams comprising white stars, he was advancing the cause of African Americans. "He saw himself as a contributor to the civil rights struggle and knew he made a difference," Paige biographer Donald Spivey observed. "On the mound, he knew he was making a statement."
Paige described his own dominating performance in Wichita this way: "I'd cracked another little clink in Jim Crow."
Buck O'Neil possessed a "sunny-side up" nature, too, but he was also a determined player as the Kansas City Monarchs' first baseman and later the team's savvy manager. The shortstop on the 1945 Monarchs team was a gifted athlete named Jack Robinson. But Robinson was seven years younger than O'Neil. While Robinson was hitting .375 for the Monarchs in 1945 and attracting the interest of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Buck was still serving in the United States Navy.
O'Neil's lack of bitterness about his fate may be one of the reasons he lived so long. His love of baseball sustained his spirit.
"There is nothing like getting your body to do all it has to do on a baseball field," he once proclaimed. "It is as good as sex. It is as good as music. It fills you up. Waste no tears on me. I didn't come along too early. I was right on time."
In the mid-1990s, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns introduced a new generation of Americans to Buck O'Neil. And when the old Kansas City Monarch died, Burns spoke of him touchingly. "Buck changed my life," Burns said. "When you are with someone who is a better human being than the rest of us, it gives you the opportunity to aim higher."
As they often do, the Lords of Baseball blew it when it came to honoring O'Neil. In 2006, presumably because he was about to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, he was invited to the induction ceremonies in Cooperstown -- but was inexplicably not voted into the Hall. He was gracious in his remarks, anyway, as anyone who'd ever met him knew he would be. Later that year George W. Bush addressed the slight by posthumously awarding him the presidential Medal of Freedom.
"Buck O'Neil lived long enough to see baseball and America change for the better," Bush said at the ceremony. "He's one of the people we can thank for that. Buck O'Neil was a legend and a beautiful human being."
Buck's son Warren, accepting the honor, said his dad "would have lit up that room" had he been at the White House. There's little doubt about that.
"I've done a lot of things I like to do," Buck said at age 83 when a baseball complex was named after him in Sarasota, Florida. "I shook hands with President Truman. I shook hands with President Clinton. I hugged Hillary. But I would rather be right here, right now, talking to you than anyplace I've ever been."
Buck O'Neil's positive approach to life was an inspiration to anyone who ever met him. But that doesn't lessen the injustice that was done to these men. In the years since, the Hall of Fame has named its lifetime achievement award for O'Neill; more black players from that era have been inducted; and organized baseball has officially recognized the Negro League players as major leaguers. But the sport's aficionados always knew how good those black ballplayers were. So did most of their white contemporaries. It was hardly a secret: From 1949 through 1959, seven of the National League MVPs -- Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella (three times), Willie Mays, Don Newcome, Henry Aaron, and Ernie Banks (twice) -- were veterans of the Negro Leagues.
At the same time, the players from that era tended to remember their Negro Leagues playing days with more fondness than regret. After meeting President Obama, 87-year-old Minnie Miñoso, "the Cuban Comet," who played in All-Star games in the Negro League and MLB, told reporters that the old days had been great. But, he added, integration made baseball even better.
"It made the game beautiful for everybody and for the United States," Miñoso said simply.
And that's our quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.