Saturday, October 07, 2006

Buck O'Neil: 1911-2006

I was saddened to hear of the passing last night of legendary Negro Leaguer Buck O'Neil, who passed away at the age of 94. John Jordan "Buck" O"Neil played in the Negro Leagues for many years with the Kansas City Monarchs but never had the opportunity to play in the majors. He became the first black scout in the majors, with the Cubs in the '50s. It was the beginning of a 32-year association with the club, and he was responsible for the signing of Ernie Banks and Lou Brock. He also became the first black coach in the majors, in 1962 with the club.

But Mr. O'Neil came to the national forefront in 1994 when he was featured in the fine Ken Burns documentary, "Baseball." I loved his stories, especially from his days in the Negro Leagues. He came across as a kindly old gentleman, who eyes sparkled when he talked about those days, which were clearly the best days of his life. He also played a big part in the formation of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

He was on the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee, and he was instrumental in getting many former forgotten Negro League greats into the Hall. But earlier this year, he missed election to the Hall himself by one vote, which many rightly viewed as a travesty. But in his self-effacing style, he handled it with class and grace. Hopefully, a wrong will be righted and Mr. O'Neil will be elected to the Hall posthumously.

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