Posnanski: Buck O’Neil and a fan’s belief in the Kansas City Royals

From SABR member Joe Posnanski at NBC Sports on September 25, 2015:

A couple of months before he died in 2006, Negro Leagues legend and perpetually hopeful Royals fan Buck O’Neil was sitting in the audience while a few less knowledgeable baseball people – myself included – talked about the Royals in an event at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Buck had many gifts. He had a beautiful singing voice. He was a magnificent story teller. He was an unparalleled dresser. He had been, in his Negro Leagues days, a superb first baseman, and he knew how to handle the bat.

If I could sum up Buck O’Neil’s greatest gift, it was his ability to see the world as a beautiful place. He had his reasons to feel bitter. He had been denied the chance to play, or manage, in the Major Leagues. He had been called all the names, refused service, treated as something less than human. He once had to wear a grass skirt just to play baseball, and he talked with tears in his eyes about the times his wife could not try on a hat, because if a black woman tried on a hat in the 1950s, she had to buy it. Still, he could not stop believing in the goodness of people or the promise of tomorrow or the chances of the underdog. His favorite word – and he would shout it out sometimes for no reason at all – was “Yeah!”

So that day of the panel, the question was asked: How can the Royals ever hope to compete against the Yankees? We on the panel hemmed and hawed for a while about that until Buck, aged 94, had heard all that he could hear. He stood up.

“Of course the Royals can beat the Yankees,” he said. “Yeah! It doesn’t matter how much money they spend. It doesn’t matter how many stars they have. Yeah! They can only put nine players on the field at one time, same as Kansas City. None of that other stuff matters. Everyone just has to believe they can win. Yeah!”

Everyone applauded, of course, but I’m not sure how many people really bought what Buck was saying. It sounded very Peter Pan, all that stuff about “you just have to believe.” Sports fans as a whole have become much more skeptical over the years about those things you cannot see, things like belief and chemistry and guts and all that. The Royals’ problems – like not having very good baseball players – seemed much too real to solve with something as nebulous as belief.

It’s almost a decade later now, and the Royals just became the first team in baseball to clinch a division title. I often think about how much Buck would have loved this. Sure, the early clinching is in part because the Royals play in a pretty weak division. But, look: In the American League East, the Toronto Blue Jays are playing baseball at a supreme level. They have outscored their opponents by 217 runs – this is historic. They are on pace for the largest run differential since the 116-win Seattle Mariners in 2001. The Royals, in contrast, have outscored opponents by just 78 runs.

Read the full article here: http://sportsworld.nbcsports.com/royals-clinch-thanks-to-belief/

Originally published: September 25, 2015. Last Updated: September 25, 2015.