John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil never got a free pass in life.
The grandson of a man brought to this continent a slave, O’Neil moved to Kansas City to avoid racial persecution in the Deep South. He played baseball during an era of segregation, and earlier this year was denied entry into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by a special 12-member panel.
It figures that on Tuesday night, when the 94-year-old O’Neil stepped into the batter’s box during a minor league All-Star game, nobody could quibble over an intentional walk.
Except maybe O’Neil and a few thousand fans.
“I just might take a swing at one,” he said before Tuesday night’s Northern League All-Star game.
Leading off for the West in the top of the first inning, O’Neil argued with the umpire after the first pitch from Kansas City T-Bones pitcher Jonathan Krysa sailed high and was called a ball. After another high pitch that narrowly missed his head, O’Neil took a called strike before being walked, as planned.
O’Neil ambled to first base, then took a lead off the bag as if he were going to stay in the game before being pulled for a pinch runner.
After the top of the inning, T-Bones owner John Ehlert announced that a trade had been brokered to bring O’Neil to the T-Bones, allowing him to also lead off the bottom of the inning.
In his second at-bat, O’Neil took three balls — all of them high and greeted with a chorus of boos from the crowd — before swinging at a pitch and almost spinning off his feet. Possibly lost in the novelty of the inning, the umpire gave him two more balls before sending him down to first base with his second walk of the night.
The T-Bones signed O’Neil to a one-day contract, making him the oldest man ever to play professional baseball. He surpassed 83-year-old Jim Eriotes, who struck out in a minor league game in South Dakota earlier this month, by more than a decade. [more]
One of those 'nice' stories, but also one which reminds me of Roman story of some aged actor (in their 90s?) being brought out for a final/encore performance -- the name escapes me (I've got Polus in my head, but that was a different aged actor). It also reminds me of (although obviously isn't parallel to) Pliny's famous observation (9.6) about chariot factions and drivers changing colours in the middle of the race:
Si tamen aut velocitate equorum aut hominum arte traherentur, esset ratio non nulla; nunc favent panno, pannum amant, et si in ipso cursu medioque certamine hic color illuc ille huc transferatur, studium favorque transibit, et repente agitatores illos equos illos, quos procul noscitant, quorum clamitant nomina relinquent.