Five police cars escorted them through Wichita, Kan., and the students biking to spread the lore of the Negro Leagues and Buck O'Neil's legacy paused to appreciate their fortune.
Less than two weeks earlier, they were almost out of money, severely deprived of sleep and wondering whether they should continue the trip from Seattle to Kansas City, Mo. Thanks to Yahoo! readers, who donated $5,600 to fund the remainder of the trip, the three student bikers from Chief Sealth High, teacher Gary Thomsen and a recent graduate handling the planning will pull into Kansas City at noon Friday and hold a press conference with Buck two hours later.
They'll talk about their journey, which took them along the path that Negro Leagues barnstormers blazed in the 1920s and '30s. And about their Web site, www.thanksbuck.com, which had around 1,000 total hits before our story about them ran and now has been accessed more than 500,000 times. And about the trip as a whole, from the accident that sent one rider home to the blazing heat of Death Valley to the final leg, 131 miles into Kansas City from Sabetha, Kan., to the time they got pulled over by the police on the New Mexico-Arizona border.
"It was pouring, and we had the guys in the back of the truck in New Mexico," said Amanda Zahler, the trip's architect. "We were just a few miles from the hotel. It's much safer than riding through a storm. We weren't too far when we got pulled over. An officer gets out and Mr. Thomsen starts talking to him. He'd gotten a call that people saw guys climbing into the back of the truck.
"They thought we were illegal immigrants."
Jasdeep Saran, Yuto Fukushige and Chunda Zeng, the three student bikers, happen to be immigrants. All of them are legal, and the cops laughed away their mistake and signed a bat as well as the petition to get Buck in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, one now 18,000 signatures deep. The group got another batch of police signatures when they pulled into the hotel and drew a second convoy of cars expecting immigration arrests.
All complications aside, the group expects to arrive in Kansas City on Friday at noon. They'll meet Buck two hours later, then troll the city trying to collect signatures and money for the Buck O'Neil Education and Research center.
Their sales pitch: "Give a buck for Buck."
So many have done it already.
"Without your readers helping," Zahler said, "we wouldn't have made it."
It's that kind of interactivity that makes this job such fun. Sometimes people get mad at a story and fire off a vulgar e-mail. Other times a story provokes emotion or thought, and readers write with thanks.
Like a story or not, please keep writing. The more letters, the better. The better letters, the better discussion. And the better the discussion, the better for baseball fans everywhere.
BUCK O'NEIL ("Biking for Buck", July 26, 2006)
Just wanted to say thank you for that article and raising the awareness of this incredible gesture by this group of kids. Gary Thomsen seems to be one of those teachers that provides the type of education you can't get out of book. I sit here in Kansas City and know who Buck O'Neil is and what the man represents. The love of the game. That's it, not 500 home runs, 3,000 hits or 300 wins.
Yeah, my money was deposited this afternoon, and thanks for sharing their story, Buck's story.
Overland Park, Kan.
Thanks to you and everyone else who helped a worthwhile cause.
HALL OF FAME ("Re-examining the Hall", July 29, 2006)
While I agree that Bill James deserves a spot in baseball's hallowed Hall, it's interesting to note that James himself has said he was inspired to start keeping his meticulous stats (and come up with new ways to determine a player's value) because of Strat-O-Matic. Which, in turn, would argue for a higher place on your list for Hal Richman, the game's creator. The beauty and simplicity of Strat-O-Matic has never properly been duplicated and any kid that sat down with a pack of game sheets and tried to recreate mini-seasons with his own dream team walked away just as enthralled – if not more so – with the game than before he started.
Your list, though, is comprehensive and well-argued – even if the thought of Scott Boras making his way into that shrine curdles my blood and makes me taste bile in the back of my throat. Excellent job.
Mark wasn't alone in getting the creeps from the suggestion of inducting Boras. At first, I thought about Jeremy Kapstein, the original superagent. Eventually I realized that Boras' effect on the game is infinitely bigger than Kapstein's was. For the better, too, I believe, though one e-mailer compared him with Arnold Rothstein (who fixed the 1919 World Series) and BALCO president Victor Conte. Ouch.
Your article concerning the "injustice" of not voting in Buck O'Neil among the list of new Negro League Hall of Famers was an ill-informed piece that took a cheap shot at the 12 members of the selection committee.
The dozen individuals that comprised this group devoted countless hours of research, pored over thousands of box scores and read numerous contemporary articles on each of the eligible candidates. One of the members, the late Robert Peterson, helped create a renewed interest in the Negro Leagues with his groundbreaking book, "Only the Ball Was White."
For you to attack their credibility is an insult to that effort. Your knowledge of this era appears to be greatly biased toward the reflections of the eternally gracious Mr. O'Neil. It's telling that Buck is the only former Negro Leaguer that people said should have been inducted – for example, no one has mounted a campaign to induct Dick "Cannonball" Redding, to name one individual who also had potentially Hall of Fame numbers.
There are no lifetime achievement awards in baseball and the voting wasn't meant to be a popularity contest. The executives who won election all were chosen for their efforts in maintaining the Leagues during its heyday, not for keeping its memory alive.
The outrage of grandstanding politicians and Joe Fan, most of whom couldn't mention more than a few trivial bits about the Negro Leagues if queried, only goes to show that ignorance is bliss.
In short, the most knowledgeable voices on the Negro Leagues have spoken and intelligent people should respect their opinion.
I spoke with Bob Peterson about two weeks before he passed while working on a story for The Kansas City Star. Though he was in poor health, he spun great tales of watching Negro Leagues games as a kid and delving into research for his book, which was indeed groundbreaking. Toward the end of the conversation, I asked him whether he would vote for Buck. Without pause, he said yes.
Seven others, it is believed, agreed with Bob. The four who voted no must have taken the rules at absolute face value and judged Buck simply as a manager – or, more likely, had some kind of a grudge. My former colleague at the Star, Randy Covitz, wrote a great piece talking about the feud between Larry Lester, a committee member, and Don Motley, the executive director of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, where Lester used to work and Buck still does. Three of Lester's colleagues on the committee, Dick Clark, Sammy Miller and Leslie Heaphy, had written letters to Kansas City's alt-weekly, The Pitch, praising Lester and criticizing Motley.
Fact is, when Randy asked Lester whether he voted for Buck – the man who helped choose Motley over him for the top position at the museum – he replied: "Ask Buck."
Knowledge is one thing. Pettiness is another.
Buck O'Neil, sure. The San Diego Chicken? A stadium announcer? You posed the question of whether this might water down baseball's Hall of Fame and then very quickly proved that if you had your way, it would. I'm not saying that all these people haven't contributed to baseball's history and culture, but while some of them certainly deserve the same recognition that players and commissioners do, I really don't think a stadium announcer qualifies.
Bob Sheppard, the Yankees' public-address announcer, has been around since Mickey Mantle's rookie season in 1951. That's 56 years of calling the names of the most famous team, in a uniquely simple fashion. He is the best in his business, and combining that with his service time, he makes a strong argument for the induction of at least one P.A. announcer.
Bravo! Your article on Buck O'Neil was compelling. When I ask myself how and why he was not selected, all I can attribute it to is the same short-sighted, small-minded snobbery that has kept many deserving players out. O'Neil's class at the podium showed up those who passed on him. Unlike Pete Rose, the Hall of Fame clearly needs and deserves men like O'Neil a hell of a lot more than he needs it.
Rock Island, Ill.
The Hall of Fame should be for players and managers only – period. No one cares about writers, statisticians, owners, etc. The game is played on the field, so take your Hall picks from there. If you don't step between the lines, you don't enter the Hall.
I couldn't agree with you more. There should also be some recognition for coaches as well. For example, men such as Charlie Lau, Johnny Sain, and Leo Mazzone. There are a lot of batting champions and Cy Young winners who owe a debt to them. I believe George Brett gives Lau all sorts of credit for his success. There is more to baseball than what goes on between the lines and the Hall of Fame should find a way of recognizing the other contributors. Hopefully they will, and soon.
I feel stupid for not including coaches. Agree wholeheartedly on Charlie Lau and Johnny Sain, and before this year, I would've said Leo Mazzone, too. That 5.37 earned-run average with Baltimore – second worst in baseball behind Kansas City– doesn't help his cause.
What contribution? Being black? What do you know about contributions, white boy? Buck O'Neil doesn't deserve to be in the Hall of Fame because he wasn't a great player, period, and his achievements don't warrant being in the Hall of Fame. Don't give me this crap about how the game was watered down back in the old days because the black players weren't allowed to compete. I don't think Cy Young, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth or any of those guys would lose any sleep from having to compete an All-Star team made up of Negro players. Save me your liberal, self-hating whining, Jeff.
British Columbia, Canada
And here I thought Canada promoted tolerance. Just goes to show the ignorance that still permeates.
COMPTON ("Diamonds in the rough", Aug. 2, 2006)
We are so enlivened and inspired to hear that someone is seriously addressing the future of baseball, and of so many lost boys.
Our grandson is even now suffering the high school peer pressure to give up baseball. Most of his classmates are black and have given their hearts to basketball/football. His white friends tend to be air-conditioned video gamers. But he's grown up with our love of baseball and is physically/psychologically well-suited to it.
Baseball seems to us to be a really great cause to champion, bringing a decency and order and joy to life that no other sport can really match.
Blue Ridge, Ga.
I really enjoyed the piece on the Compton facility and found the statistics on African-American players very interesting. One of the colleagues I shared this with asked if I'd check and see if you might know of a place where we could get a complete demographic breakdown of all players.
Gordon L. Lester
Every year, Richard Lapchick, one of the top sports business professors in the country, puts together the Racial and Gender Report Card for each of the major sports. His study is comprehensive and includes plenty of juicy numbers dating from 1991 to this year. You can read baseball's 2005 report card, released in April, here. Beware that it's a fairly large PDF file, so it will take some time to load.
TRADES ("Deal or no deal?", July 27, 2006)
I think you made the same mistake the Mets GM made a few years ago in that Kazmir for Zambrano deal. It wasn't Carlos Zambrano that the Mets received – that deal might have made giving Kazmir away reasonable – but Victor Zambrano.
Honest mistake that got fixed. Not until about 9,999 other people pointed it out. All wishfully thinking Mets fans, I presume.
I know some of these trades aren't likely at this point, but the Julio Lugo-to-Houston trade is as unlikely as they come. I know he was acquitted on domestic abuse charges, but the court of public opinion and more importantly Drayton McLane have both convicted the guy. Lugo was designated for reassignment the next day and released. Doesn't matter how much of an improvement over Adam Everett he is, he is persona non grata in the Astros organization. While it's fun to speculate about trades and throw out ideas, they should be grounded in some reality and, frankly, I just don't see it in this trade.
I completely whiffed on the connection with Lugo and the Astros. To forget about something as serious as alleged domestic abuse – of which, like Clay said, Lugo was acquitted – was irresponsible. I apologize.
Yet I wasn't off in suggesting the Astros should consider trading for Lugo. In fact, they did, according to Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus, who wrote that Lugo was Houston's backup plan to Miguel Tejada.
I've spoken a few times with Drayton McLane, the Houston Astros' owner, and though I understand his wanting to keep his team's image pristine, he also tasted a World Series last year and wants to get back – and if that meant taking on a talent with past problems, I don't think he, nor anyone, would have been righteous enough to reject it.
Regarding your deal of Alfonso Soriano for Matt Garza: This is not a deal that needs to happen unless the Twins need to win bigger than they are in 2006. With Radke's likely retirement this year, as a business and a team the 2006 season has already been a success for the Twins. The real target is to be competitive and improving as their core – Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano, Jason Bartlett, et al. – move toward their prime years (25-27), which is two years from now and coincides with the opening of a new stadium.
St. Louis Park, Minn.
Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams said it best: "Can you win the 2008 championship in 2006?" Who knows if Mauer's knees will give out next year? Who knows if Morneau will revert to 2005 form? Who knows if Santana and Liriano will blow out their elbows? When you've got a chance at a championship, you go full bore at it. The Twins' system is stacked with enough right-handed pitching to withstand the loss of Garza. Soriano's bat, in the middle of a lineup with Mauer, Morneau, a healthy Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer and hot-hitting Bartlett, is scary.
Too bad it didn't happen.
"Rangers acquire All-Star Lee from Brewers"
Boy you sure can pick 'em.
Raise your hand if you had Lee going to Texas. Anyone? Bueller … ?
BASEBALL CARDS ("It's still in the cards", July 28, 2006)
I loved your article about baseball cards. From 1990 (the year after my Chicago Cubs first made the playoffs) until 1997 (the year I formally discovered girls) I was a torrid collector, buying any pack that captured my interest at a given time. I bought every Sammy Sosa, Greg Maddux or Mark Grace card I found, sold every Frank Thomas, threw out every Rob Dibble (and a few Barry Bonds too; that's right, I hated him long before it was fashionable).
Except for those Thomases, Dibbles, and Bondses I needed to complete sets, of course. I was becoming disillusioned already with the hobby when I quit collecting at 16; I had moved away from the higher-priced, shiny cards and was buying the $1 packs of Score, and the Fleer cards that no longer carried UV-coating. After my first girlfriend broke my heart, I needed a new avenue down which to pour my money again, so I tried to re-enter the card game, but it had lost its magic. Now my 20,000-card collection sits in boxes in my parents' attic (with a promise that they will never be thrown out). Sometimes I want to sell it; I certainly could use the money. But I hate the idea of selling away such a significant part of my childhood. I know that some day I will want to dig back into those boxes and relish my Sosa collection, marvel at the Alex Rodriguez rookie cards that I am sure are worth plenty of money now, and remember those trips to the card shop when Bob (the proprietor) would tell me about the legends of the game and sell me (at a reduced cost, since I was a regular customer and a kid) a '71 Ernie Banks, '65 Carl Yastrzemski, '51 Al Zarilla, and the '90 Score Bo Jackson (because it was just so cool).
Downers Grove, Ill.
I just read your article and it really took me back. I just turned 35, and remember going to friends' houses to trade cards and mowing lawns all day Saturday to take my money to run down to TG&Y or Sprouse Reitz to buy up every 1985 Topps pack that they had at 35 cents a pack. I was excited to get the McGwire rookie card. (I still remember, No. 401!) I now have a soon-to-be 4-year-old who will hit baseballs in our backyard until I finally tire of lobbing them to him. He loves baseball. He may not know the business side of it yet, but maybe that is for the best. Much like cheap gas, the day of reasonable cards are gone. I can only look back and tell my grandkids, "Back when I was a kid, baseball cards were only 35 cents!" That is going to make me feel very old indeed!
Thanks for bringing back the memories and giving me a chance to remember what it felt when I bought a 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. Upper Deck rookie for $10 and feeling like I had spent my life savings.
Highlands Ranch, Colo.
Anybody who collected in the late '80s has a fondness for the Junior Upper Deck. It's the generation's defining card, an absolute classic, no matter how wildly overproduced it was. I've still got two of them.
When I read that you were going to try the 1987 Topps baseball gum, I thought, "Jesus, no! It's just going to disintegrate." My brother and I both experimented with ways to get the gum to "work" through the mid-'90s. I figured it out with a pack of 1980 Topps. I sucked on the gum for about an hour and a half or two hours and eventually it became perfectly chewable. Admittedly, it had shrunk down considerably and was about a third the size of normal chewing gum, but if you're actually interested in chewing the gum to get that nostalgia, and not have it fall apart and leave that vile taste in your mouth, try it out.
Ah, my friend, there is no microeconomic principle which stipulates that to limit supply will spike that demand. You got to the right place, but I fear you misinformed your dear readers along the way.
When you limit supply, the demand doesn't change (well, it might, but that's a marketing question, not an economic principle), but you wind up with the same demand chasing fewer of those cards they want. So, the ones that are willing to pay more are the ones that win that limited number, hence the higher prices when supply is limited. Presto! Econ 101.
Seeing that Brad's e-mail address is of a Harvard alum, I trust his correction. However, I must note that I got an A in Introduction to Microeconomics at Syracuse University, which, I believe, says more about my alma mater than me.
Hey, people from Texas can read! Unfortunately, however, after I read your article about the memorabilia show, I found out that people with journalism degrees from Syracuse still can't write. When they try, what they "write" will totally weird you out. Your fascination with that Rich Yett card is very weird. It gave me the creeps to read that. If your commentary on the Rich Yett card wasn't fetishistic, I don't know what is.
Let's just say I got fined by the office kangaroo court for putting the words "resplendent" and "mustache" next to one another.
BLACKOUTS ("Selig's promise", July 11, 2006)
Will MLB Extra Innings subscribers be blacked out on Sundays next year because of the TBS deal?
Nope. Officials said Sunday games won't suffer blackouts unless the local team is on the national TV broadcast.
Just a little follow up to your MLB blackout column. I am in Jonesboro, Ark., and unable to watch the Astros at the Mets game because I am considered in the Houston market. Houston is a 10-hour drive for me, and God knows how far it is from here to N.Y.
Just a reminder, Mr. Selig, that we will hold you to your word to fix problems such as these.
BONDS ("Bonds' never-ending story", July 20, 2006)
Doesn't this seem to be getting a bit Clintonesque? The same way it was get Bill Clinton at all costs, it now has turned to get Barry Bonds and all costs. Couldn't prove you did steroids, now we'll try perjury, couldn't do that, either, well, now we'll try income-tax evasion. What's the plan when income tax fails? Everyone is tired of this whole Barry Bonds BS. Why won't they let it die it's slow horrible painful death, why ?
Because in the eyes of some law-enforcement officials, they need a big target to validate so much time spent on the case. Barry Bonds is the ultimate get in name and reputation.
The Bonds situation is playing out more like an episode of "The Sopranos" than anything to do with baseball. The key point I think people are forgetting is, if Greg Anderson was going to testify that Bonds had no idea what he was taking, he wouldn't have been sitting in jail for the past two weeks. So we know that the government knows what he's going to say or else risk perjuring himself, and we know that's why they want him up on the stand saying it. Anderson has decided he isn't going to be a rat and will do time rather than give up the Don – er, Bonds.
I can't help but wonder, though, what kind of person will Bonds be if he lets Anderson take more jail time to cover for him.
Greg Anderson is some kind of friend. I'll be curious to see how tight he is with Bonds in 15 years.
It is not the investigation that is making us nauseous, but the arrogant disrespect for the game that Barry Bonds and those like him have shown baseball and the fans. While the sport is not perfect, and neither is any player, cheating (which is what using steroids is) should make us all sick. Bonds, if even a small bit of what he's accused of is true, deserves every minute of humiliation he's getting and more. So how about you stop making out like he's a victim?
Big Cabin, Okla.
This goes to show that when it comes to Bonds, you just can't win.
PALMEIRO ("Palmeiro's shameful end", Aug. 1, 2006)
I appreciate your article on Palmeiro. I have to say I was as shocked as most fans at this time last season when he tested positive and was suspended. This man is a personal friend of mine. He welcomed me into his life back in 1994 at the Kingdome in Seattle as I had some medical problems that have worked out for me.
He introduced me to his wife, his children and his teammates. We would talk during batting practice and he was like a big brother to me. I last saw him in person here in Seattle last season when he got his 3,000th hit. Then everything came crashing down on him, his family, everything. It took him a while to reach me.
Three weeks after he was suspended we spoke and he was a different man. He never apologized to me, nor did I expect him to. I truly believe if he did take some sort of steroids, it was by mistake. It can happen. But then I had to ask him the toughest question – if he did do it, to which he said "no," and I still to this day believe him.
His tone of voice was the same. He was honest with me and if he lied to me and all of the rest of his friends, family and fans, that is his problem to take up with god when his day comes.
I do remember days of going out after games and teammates like Canseco, Gonzalez, Brady Anderson, etc., wanting to work out late at night after games. Raffy always passed, telling them he would do so in the morning before the game. Who knows if they were shooting up or not? But that was suspicious to me.
I thought you would like to hear my side, a fan and a diehard friend of the man. Players like McGwire, Sosa, Canseco and Bonds are the ones Bud Selig should be going after to get baseball back to where it was in the mid '80s. I refuse to watch or attend MLB this season. I'm boycotting baseball because all of this mess. And in my mind, Raffy is innocent.
Amid all of the damning evidence against Palmeiro, I respect Matt's faith and trust in his friend.
Will you vote for Palmeiro for the Hall of Fame? McGwire, Sosa, Bonds? It's not too early to think about it and make a stand, one way or the other. I say no to all four. Put them in Pete Rose purgatory.
Tupper Lake, N.Y.
I don't get a Hall of Fame vote for another seven years, so Palmeiro will be two years into voting. Unless by some miracle he gets exonerated, I'd bet a year's salary that either he'll still be on the ballot or possibly off it because of lack of support. Certainly Palmeiro is not getting in. Sentiment leans against Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, too. I wouldn't vote for any of them. Palmeiro was caught red-handed as a steroid user. McGwire was two-dimensional – home runs and walks – and with those home runs boosted by androstenedione, likely among other things, they carry far less weight. Between steroid speculation and the corked bat, Sosa's case doesn't add up, either.
Bonds is an entirely different story. I'm torn. Because before he allegedly started using performance-enhancing drugs, he was a three-time National League MVP. At the same time, if he did use steroids, and all indications point to yes, he spit in the face of the game that made him.
Let's put it this way: I'm glad it's at least five more years until anyone has to weigh that discussion.