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Monday, April 23, 2007

Red Dresses

This weekend, I finished reading Joe Posnanski’s book, The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America. As I mentioned in a previous post, Buck O’Neil played baseball in the Negro Leagues in the 1930’s and 1940’s. He led the league in hitting twice as a Kansas City Monarch, hitting .345 in 1940 and .350 in 1946. He was a three-time East-West All-Star. And he managed the team from 1948-1955.

O’Neil died last October at the age of 94. This book about the final year of his life seems to have captured him perfectly. He was a man who loved life, even though he lived through a period in America’s history in which he was never allowed to play the game he loved at the major league level simply because he had the “wrong” color of skin. O’Neil didn’t want this book to be about injustice though. He wanted Posnanski to tell people how much fun he had playing in the Negro Leagues.

At one point in their journey across the country, during a visit to New York, they both spotted what Posnanski described as a “noticeable” woman in a red dress. If I remember correctly, they were headed back to their hotel after a long day in which O’Neil had done several interviews to help promote the Negro Leagues. It’s hard to believe that a guy in his 90’s could have so much energy. Turns out that he had more than anybody realized.

When Posnanski entered the hotel lobby, he turned around and he couldn’t find O’Neil. He looked back outside and O’Neil was talking to the woman in the red dress. Eventually O’Neil came inside and he said this to Posnanski, “Son, in this life, you don’t ever walk by a red dress.”

If the afterward of Posnanski’s book, he talks about October 6, 2006—the day that Buck O’Neil died. Posnanski said that earlier in the day he and his wife bought a piano. He said that as he hit the keys in the store, he heard O’Neil’s quote about the red dress run through his mind.

Then Posnanski said this:

“I think Buck meant that we should never pass up the opportunity to live life. We should not rush by the red dresses, the baseball games, the street musicians, or the sweet smell of dessert. We should not stifle or smother our craziest dreams. I had always wanted to play the piano, so we bought it, and they delivered it to the house that day. I was playing some sort of off-key jazz thing that night when the phone rang. I kept playing. The phone rang again and still I kept playing. The phone rang a third time, and I knew.”

O’Neil had passed away.

I think Posnanski nailed what O’Neil meant about not walking by a red dress. And we could all live deeper, richer lives if we did indeed stop rushing and started enjoying the many little nuances that life has to offer us every day.


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