Buck O’Neil would have turned 101 this week, and he would have LOVED the Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout argument. This was one of the countless beautiful things about Buck: He always wanted to learn more about baseball. People constantly expected him — because of his age, I suppose — to be a traditionalist, a bit stuck in the past, but he wasn’t. Not at all.
“I remember when I used to go to spring training,” a television reporter was once saying to Buck, “you know back when baseball was still baseball and …”
That’s when Buck interrupted her. “Excuse me,” he said softly, “but baseball is still baseball.”
That’s how he was. I don’t know how much he would have embraced the new stats, but he would have been curious about them. He was curious about everything. He wasn’t the type to complain about pitchers throwing fewer innings, and he wasn’t the kind to grumble about how much more money players make, and he was the sort to think that players used to be better or more moral or anything like that. Whenever anyone would ask him about steroids — looking for him to rip the current players — he would turn the tables and say: “The only reason we didn’t use steroids is because we didn’t have them.”
And he would have loved Mike Trout. Oh, he loved a great hitter like Miguel Cabrera … like Reggie Jackson … like Manny Ramirez … like George Brett.
But his favorites were those players who could do a little of everything, who could run, who could throw, who could hit, who could hit with power, who could chase down a fly ball or go deep into the hole and throw out the runner. He loved Willie Mays. He loved Ken Griffey. He loved Hank Aaron. He loved Roberto Clemente.
Buck always said the best player he ever saw was Oscar Charleston, who played in the Negro Leagues from around 1915 all the way to 1941. Buck would say, in his prime, Oscar Charleston would hit you 50 home runs, steal you 80 bases and play Gold Glove center field. Buck would say that Willie Mays was the best major league player he ever saw … and that the old timers would say that Mays was the closest thing they had ever seen to Oscar Charleston.
I bring all this up for two reasons. One, I’m beyond proud to say that this Jan. 12, at the Legacy Awards in Kansas City, I will be accepting the Buck O’Neil Legacy Award for contributions to the Negro Leagues Museum. It’s humbling, this award, because I know how much it meant to Buck. A few tears might be shed that day. I hope, if you’re in the neighborhood, you will come out.
Second … the Negro Leagues announced their Legacy Baseball Awards, which will also be given out that night. It’s an amazing event. And I should say, the winner of the Oscar Charleston Award for most valuable player in the American League this year … Mike Trout.
So, yeah, in Buck’s honor, they got it exactly right.
In fact, if you look at the awards, you might find a nice statistical bent to the choices. I sometimes imagine what Buck O’Neil would say about some of these advances stats. My guess is that I would explain them to him for a few minutes, and he’d listen carefully, and finally he would say: “Hmm, that makes sense. I wonder what my WAR would have been.”
Legacy Award Winners
Oscar Charleston Award (MVP): Mike Trout, Angels; Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
Bullet Rogan Award (NL Pitcher of the Year): David Price, Tampa Bay; R.A. Dickey, Mets
Josh Gibson Award goes to the home run leaders: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit; Ryan Braun, Milwaukee
Cool Papa Bell Award goes to the stolen base leaders: Trout; Everth Cabrera, San Diego
Buck Leonard Award goes to the batting average champions: Miggy; Buster Posey, San Francisco
Larry Doby Award (Rookie of the Year): Trout; Bryce Harper, Washington
Hilton Smith Award (Reliever of the Year): Jim Johnson, Baltimore; Craig Kimbrel Atlanta and Jason Motte, St. Louis
Pop Lloyd Award honors community leadership: Adam Jones, Baltimore
Rube Foster Award (GM of the Year): Billy Beane, Oakland; John Mozeliak, St. Louis
C.I. Taylor Award (Manager of the Year): Buck Showalter, Baltimore; Dusty Baker, Cincinnati
Jackie Robinson Award for Career Excellence: Charley Pride