Passing the Buck
Passing the Buck... and the Joy
I've been reluctant in sermon and written word to mix religion with sports. I am perhaps too well-acquainted with my own propensity toward violence in the manly arts of basketball and football.
Thinking of Jesus as the quarterback in the game of life always sounded to me more than a trifle tacky... and unseemly for the one who spoke of himself as gentle and lowly in heart. Ed Stack, friend and former head of the Cooperstown Hall of Fame, whether by intent or having more important things to think of, was astute in never asking me to pray over the annual proceedings of the inductees. I would have struck out.
This past week, however, events have encouraged me to reconsider; drawing a connection, that is, between the Gospel and the diamond.
Buck O'Neil, former star in the Negro League, first African-American coach in the majors, and a rich source of eyewitness material for Ken Burns TV series, "Baseball," was, in they eyes of several pundits who claim to know about such things, discriminated against once again. He was not elected, as were seventeen others from the Negro League, in an extraordinary vote of ten stewards of the game.
What shall stick in my mind about this business is Buck's reaction. With that most wonderful of smiles ever to be seen on television - wide, generous, eyes atwinkle - Buck allowed as he wasn't troubled by what others saw as a terrible omission. He counseled his advocates to back off, please, the "stewards" were only doing what they thought best.
Call it magnanimity, this refusal to rush to one's own defense: I see it also as a reflection of the spirit with which a certain Galilean rabbi sought to infuse all human relationships.
What Buck knows, not just believes, knows, is that a plaque in Cooperstown, as pleasing as it might be, will not add one cubit to his stature. His magnanimity certainly made him seem a lot taller (as he did in recent film footage where the 94 year old infielder looked like he was standing among pygmies).
The sheer sweetness and joy of the man is contagious. We should pass the Buck around.
Music and baseball do mix. Think Robert Merrill. Or Eddie Basinski (now that is a blast from the past!). With Buck still in mind I attended a concert of the Hartford Symphony playing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. When we arrived at the fourth movement and the chorus of 175 voices singing the Ode to Joy, I heard in it a loud "Amen" to Mr. O'Neil, especially that refrain, "Be embraced, ye millions! This kiss is for the entire world!... Joy, brilliant spark of the Gods." Most of us, Buck included, would find for our non-Teutonic souls a sentiment by Louis Armstrong more appropriate, "What a Wonderful World," sung, be it noted, in our hearing recently at a brass concert by an old linebacker now a preacher.
Honors are nice, but a life lived with grace and generosity is a gift to all of us from the heart of God. Bless you, Buck... and Ludwig... and Louis.