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John McAlpin Pens Song in Tribute to Buck O’Neil’s Journey to Baseball’s Hall of Fame

Longtime science teacher John McAlpin recently wrote a poignant song in tribute to Buck O’Neil, who played for and managed the Kansas City Monarchs in baseball’s Negro League. Buck later became a scout for the Chicago Cubs organization in Major League Baseball and eventually MLB’s first Black coach. He mentored “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks and signed Lou Brock, both Hall of Fame players.

“I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR in late December and a story came on that revealed Buck O’Neil was going to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this July,” Mr. McAlpin recalls. “I knew Buck’s story and I have always admired this humble, gracious, and dignified man and was actually feeling quite overjoyed about his inclusion. About an hour later, the lyrics were written and the melody and chorus were clearly defined for me too.” To listen to the song, please see the video below.

Mr. McAlpin says that Buck’s story resonated with him because Buck is likely one of the last people MLB will be able to celebrate to connect the modern game with the racial realities of baseball at the start of Buck’s career in 1937. “Buck’s exclusion from the Hall of Fame in 2006, by a single vote, and the remarkable dignity and generosity he extended to others in the face of that great disappointment stuck with me,” Mr. McAlpin states. “His exclusion was not a matter of race. Seventeen other Negro league players and executives were inducted in 2006 and Buck is quoted as saying he would have felt awful if any of them had been excluded if he had been included. He was an incredibly gracious man who chose kindness, compassion, and love of the game over personal achievements. There is no one quite like Buck and, unfortunately, he passed away two months later.” Now, sixteen years later, Buck will be a member of the Hall of Fame in 2022. “There is something so heartening about that for me. The word ‘justice’ comes to mind.”

Although he wrote the song, Mr. McAlpin states that he is not a musician. “My friend Jim Wooster, who is the executive director of Club Passim in Harvard Square, is an exceptional musician who was in a band back in the day called The Courage Brothers with frontman and ‘local hero’ Todd Thibaud.” He explains that Jim is a baseball fan and Todd already had a number of baseball-themed songs in his extensive catalog, including the theme to the College World Series “Back Home in Omaha,” written for ESPN. “Todd and Jim took on ‘Dear Buck’ with passion and professionalism and it went through several iterations before we hit upon the final mix, which we hope feels understated, respectful, dignified, and demonstrates our affection and admiration for the life and legacy of the man it honors. These guys took a simple song and endowed it with the feeling and vibe I intended.” He notes that Greg Schneider, Ronald M. Druker ’62 Head of School, was the first person to ever sing “Dear Buck,” but elected to step away from pursuing the song further because of his many other responsibilities.

Mr. McAlpin hopes that the song will provide an important American history civics lesson and will help illuminate the inspirational depth of Buck O’Neil’s character, decency, and kindness. “I was not inspired to write a song about a baseball player,” he explains, “but Buck was a one-of-a-kind human being who also played baseball.” Before listening to the song, he recommends watching this YouTube clip from the MLB Network for Black History Month. Former MLB player Harold Reynolds interviews Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, and provides the sense of the depth of admiration and affection Buck O’Neil engenders in the lives of people who know his unique story and journey. He hopes the song inspires in ways that Buck inspired. “I think this is a moment in baseball that is unlikely to ever come this way again, and I think our song ‘Dear Buck’ can be part of that moment. Buck represents the best in all of us!”


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