I’ve known for some time that Beat generation writer Jack Kerouac was a baseball fan. This YouTube video talks a little bit more about Kerouac’s fascination with the sport and the fantasy game he created to play on his own time. The host of the video is a bit cheesy, but the information is interesting.
A little additional research led me to find a picture of the Kerouac bobblehead mentioned in the video:
I wasn’t able to find anything about the bobblehead on the Baseball Hall of Fame website, so I’m guessing the bobblehead is no longer a part of the museum. However, it does look like it definitely was there for a time. The bobblehead was created as a promotion by the minor league Lowell Spinners in 2003, in acknowledgement of Kerouac’s birth in the Massachusetts town.
John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil, Jr. was born on November 13, 1911 in Carrabelle, Florida. He grew up in Sarasota, Florida, where he worked in the celery fields while his father ran a pool hall in Newtown. O’Neil later moved to Jacksonville with relatives, where he attended Edward Waters College to complete high school and two years of college courses. He was nicknamed “Buck” after the co-owner of the Miami Giants, Buck O’Neal. His father, John Jordan O’Neil, Sr., played on a local team, thus exposing Buck to baseball at an early age.
O’Neil left Florida in 1934 to play semi-professional baseball, collecting several years of barnstorming experience. His efforts were rewarded when he signed with the Memphis Red Sox in 1937 and then joined the Kansas City Monarchs in 1938. O’Neil had a career batting average of .288 (based on statistics from 1937 to 1950), which included four seasons above .300, and he also played in three East-West All-Star Games and two Negro World Series.
Buck O’Neil served in the United States Navy in 1944 and 1945 during World War II. He served in a naval construction battalion in New Jersey during this time, and then returned to the Monarchs at the start of the 1946 season.
O’Neil was named manager for the Monarchs in 1948, continuing to play first base full time through the 1951 season. He continued to manage the Monarchs through 1955, serving as a reserve player and pinch-hitter during these later years, winning pennants in 1953 and 1955. Following the 1955 season, O’Neil resigned as manager of the Monarchs and became a scout for the Chicago Cubs. He was named the first black coach in the major leagues by the Cubs in 1962, though he was not assigned in-game base coaching duties. In 1988, O’Neil joined the Kansas City Royals as a scout, and in 1998 was named “Midwest Scout of the Year.”
In 1990, O’Neil played a major role in the establishment of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, and served as its honorary board chairman until his death. In 1996, O’Neil became the recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Business Administration degree from the University of Missouri – Kansas City, and in 2006 he received an honorary doctorate in education from Missouri Western State University, where he also gave the commencement speech.
Also in 2006, O’Neil was nominated to a special Hall of Fame ballot for Negro League players, managers, and executives in 2006, but received fewer than the necessary nine votes (out of twelve) to gain admission. Nevertheless, the always good-natured O’Neil spoke at the induction ceremony for the seventeen Negro League players who did get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame that year.
After several weeks in the hospital, Buck O’Neil died on October 6, 2006 in Kansas City, Missouri due to heart failure and bone marrow cancer.
On December 7, 2006, O’Neil was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush due to his “excellence and determination both on and off the baseball field.” On Opening Day of 2007, the Kansas City Royals announced they would honor O’Neil by placing a fan in the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat in Kauffman Stadium each game who best exemplifies O’Neil’s spirit. The seat itself has been replaced by a red seat amidst the all-blue seats behind home plate.
In 2021, the Early Baseball Era Committee elected Buck O’Neil to the Baseball Hall of Fame with 81.3% of the vote. He was formally inducted on July 24, 2022.
The Royals’ season isn’t going too well this year — if you can count a .211 winning percentage thus far as merely “not going too well.” At the NCAA level, the Kansas Jayhawks aren’t exactly making headlines either, but at least their season is faring better than that of their MLB neighbors. I had the opportunity to participate in a somewhat behind-the-scenes experience leading up to the Jayhawks’ game yesterday, so naturally I signed up for it.
The afternoon began with batting practice, and our group was able to hang out in the KU dugout while we watched the team get in their swings.
Afterwards, we were shown the indoor batting practice facility, which I did not get any pictures of. That building also featured a wall of photos featuring former Kansas ball players, and the nameplate on each photo indicates not only the player’s name, but also the name of an MLB team. We passed through the building rather quickly, so I didn’t have time to peruse this wall very closely, but given the number of photos up there, I’m guessing these are all players that were drafted by teams, and not necessarily all of them actually made it to the Major League level.
After a filling lunch of pulled pork sandwiches, salad, chips, and brownies, it was time to head back to Hoglund Ballpark for the game. In the early innings of the game, I found myself being gestured at by the KU mascot, who invited me to have a seat with him for a bit. As amusing as it was, conversation with a mascot tends to be sparse and largely one way.
The game itself turned out to be a good one — if you were rooting for Kansas, anyways. The Jayhawks collected 3 home runs, and their pitchers held Air Force bats down quite solidly. The game ended in the seventh inning due to run spread, with a final score of 12-2.
The Jayhawks were 18-18 going into this game, so the win over Air Force yesterday puts them back on the winning side of .500. It was also the first Kansas win I have ever been able to see live. All in all, an enjoyable afternoon.
After purchasing a case of tonic water on my last grocery shopping trip, I naturally needed a reason to use it, so I stopped by the liquor store this morning to pick up a bottle of gin. Contrary to my plan, however, that did not end up being my only purchase of this trip, as this caught my attention:
I’ve never heard of Hall of Fame Vodka before today, but the marketing genius who put this stuff into baseball bat bottles clearly knows the way into the hearts of suckers like me, because I could not pass this up. When I brought my purchases to the pink-haired gal working the register, I asked when they had gotten these in. She responded, “Oh, I don’t know, a couple of weeks ago, I think?”
“Ah, just in time for baseball season, eh?”
But she gave me this what-the-hell-makes-you-think-I-know-anything-about-baseball look, so I shut up through the rest of the transaction and contented myself with being pleased with the find.
The headquarters for Hall of Fame Vodka appear to be located in Bardstown, Kentucky. Appropriately enough, Bardstown is a mere 45-minute drive from Louisville, home of the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. The company does not currently produce any other kind of spirits, but according to their FAQs, they do have a goal to expand their brand in the future.
To celebrate the Royals finally winning two in a row, I’ve decided to go ahead a try a bit of this stuff out this evening. Despite its position on the top shelf, this is hardly premium vodka. I imagine the positioning of the bottles had more to do with how ridiculously tall they are than anything else. But it’s not the cheapest of the cheap, either. I’d probably put it in the same league as Svedka or 360 vodka — not anything I’d want to drink straight, but perfectly decent when mixed in with something.
Congratulations to Japan on winning the World Baseball Classic championship! And congrats, as well, to Shohei Ohtani on earning MVP honors. As a United States citizen and resident, I was naturally rooting for the USA to repeat, but I certainly can’t be mad about Japan taking the title. The whole nation is so passionate about baseball, and they produce some amazing ballplayers.
Insomnia has struck tonight, but the plus side of it is that I was able to listen to the last 3.5 innings of the first official game of the World Baseball Classic. The Netherlands has defeated Cuba to kick things off, and in just a few short hours, Chinese Taipei will be taking on Panama.