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Buck O'Neil

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Buck O'Neil
First baseman
Born: (1911-11-13)November 13, 1911
Carrabelle, Florida, U.S.
Died: October 6, 2006(2006-10-06) (aged 94)
Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.
Batted: Right
Threw: Right
Negro leagues debut
1937, for the Memphis Red Sox
Last Negro leagues appearance
1955, for the Kansas City Monarchs
Negro leagues[a] statistics
Batting average.259
Home runs12
Runs batted in186
Managerial record62–32–2
Winning %.660
As player

As manager

Career highlights and awards
Member of the National
Baseball Hall of Fame
Election methodEarly Baseball Era Committee

John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil Jr. (November 13, 1911 – October 6, 2006) was an American first baseman and manager in the Negro American League, mostly with the Kansas City Monarchs. After his playing days, he worked as a scout and became the first African American coach in Major League Baseball.[2] In his later years he became a popular and renowned speaker and interview subject, helping to renew widespread interest in the Negro leagues, and played a major role in establishing the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2022 as an executive.[3]

O'Neil was prominently featured in Ken Burns's 1994 documentary series Baseball. His life was documented in Joe Posnanski's 2007 book The Soul of Baseball.[4]

Growing up


O'Neil was born in Carrabelle, Florida, to John Jordan O'Neil (1873–1954) and Louella Campbell (maiden; 1884–1945). O'Neil was initially denied the opportunity to attend high school owing to racial segregation. Florida had only four high schools specifically for African Americans.[5] He grew up in Sarasota, Florida in the Newtown community.[6] O'Neil worked the celery fields in Sarasota while his father ran a pool hall in Newtown. He then later moved to Jacksonville with relatives and attended Edward Waters College, where he completed high school and two years of college courses.

Playing career


In 1934, O'Neil left Florida for several years to participate in of semi-professional barnstorming experiences (playing interracial exhibition games).[7] O'Neil signed with the Memphis Red Sox for their first year of play in 1937 in the newly formed Negro American League. His contract was sold to the Monarchs the following year.[citation needed]

O'Neil had a career batting average of .288 between 1937 and 1950, including four .300-plus seasons at the plate, as well as five seasons in which he did not top .260. In 1946, the first baseman led the NAL with a .353 batting average and followed that in 1947 with a .350 mark in 16 games. He also posted averages of .345 in 1940 and .330 in 1949. He played in three East-West All-Star Games in three different seasons and two Negro World Series.[8]

O'Neil's baseball career was interrupted for two years (1944 and 1945) during World War II when he joined the U.S. Navy after the close of the 1943 season. He served his enlistment in a naval construction battalion in New Jersey. He returned to the Monarchs at the start of the 1946 season.[9]

O'Neil was named manager of the Monarchs in 1948 after Frank Duncan's retirement, and continued to play first base as well as a regular through 1951, dropping to part-time status afterward. He managed the Monarchs for eight seasons from 1948 through 1955 during the declining years of the Negro leagues, winning two league titles[10] and a shared title in which no playoff was held during that period.[11] His two undisputed pennants were won in 1953 and 1955, when the league had shrunk to fewer than six teams.

Negro leagues career statistics


O'Neil was known to have played full-time in 1951 and as a reserve and pinch-hitter as late as 1955, but Negro leagues statistics for the period 1951 and after are considered unreliable, and rapidly dropping below major league quality.[12][13]

1937 Memphis 25 9 34 5 10 1 4 0 4 0 0 .294 .294 .559
1938 Kansas City 26 39 127 25 33 7 3 3 19 11 16 .260 .343 .433
1939 Kansas City 27 46 155 19 28 5 4 1 22 3 14 .181 .249 .284
1940 Kansas City 28 31 114 19 35 7 3 1 30 5 6 .307 .342 .447
1941 Kansas City 29 32 129 18 30 5 2 0 11 6 7 .233 .272 .302
1942 Kansas City 30 46 178 27 47 8 1 1 22 4 11 .264 .307 .337
1943 Kansas City 31 39 144 21 42 4 0 1 17 4 8 .292 .333 .340
1944-45 Naval service
1946 Kansas City 34 27 95 14 27 2 2 0 11 1 14 .284 .376 .347
1947 Kansas City 35 36 127 27 34 6 1 2 15 9 13 .268 .340 .378
1948 Kansas City 36 19 69 7 18 1 1 0 10 2 5 .261 .311 .275
1949 Kansas City 37 45 109 17 36 4 0 1 14 6 0 .330 .330 .394
1950 Kansas City 38 31 83 14 21 5 2 1 1 5 11 .253 .340 .398
1951 Kansas City 39 42 134 -- 44 -- -- 3 26 -- -- .328 ~.328 .396
1952 Kansas City 40 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --- --- ---
1953 Kansas City 41 15 21 5 10 0 0 0 1 2 -- .476 ~.476 .476
1954 Kansas City 42 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --- --- ---
1955 Kansas City 43 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --- --- ---
Total 12 seasons
(through 1950)
400 1364 213 361 55 22 11 176 56 105 .288 .317 .361
2.469 Seasons
162-gm avg
162 552 86 146 22 9 4 71 23 43 .288 .317 .361

Off the field

Buck O'Neil signing autographs, 2005

When Tom Baird sold the Monarchs at the end of the 1955 season, O'Neil resigned as manager and became a scout for the Chicago Cubs,[14] and is credited for signing Hall of Fame player Lou Brock to his first professional baseball contract.[15] O'Neil is sometimes incorrectly credited with also having signed Hall of Famer Ernie Banks to his first contract; Banks was originally scouted and signed to the Monarchs by Cool Papa Bell,[16] then manager of the Monarchs' barnstorming B team in 1949. He played briefly for the Monarchs in 1950 and 1953, his play interrupted by Army duty. O'Neil was Banks' manager during those stints, and Banks was signed to play for the Cubs more than two years before O'Neil joined them as a scout. He was named the first black coach in the major leagues by the Cubs in 1962, although he was not assigned in-game base coaching duties, nor was he included in the Cubs' "College of Coaches" system, and was never allowed to manage the team during that time.[17] After many years with the Cubs, O'Neil became a Kansas City Royals scout in 1988, and was named "Midwest Scout of the Year" in 1998.[18]

O'Neil gained national prominence with his compelling descriptions of the Negro leagues as part of Ken Burns' 1994 PBS documentary on baseball.[19] Afterwards, he became the subject of countless national interviews, including appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman and The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder.[20]

In 1990, O'Neil led the effort to establish the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) in Kansas City, and served as its honorary board chairman until his death.[21] In 1996, O'Neil became the recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Business Administration degree from the University of Missouri – Kansas City in Kansas City, Missouri.[citation needed]

In February 2002, at the end of the NLBM's Legacy Awards annual banquet, O'Neil received an induction ring from the baseball scouts Hall of Fame in St. Louis.[22]

O'Neil and all-star Ichiro Suzuki developed a relationship, with Ichiro attending the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum alongside O'Neil and seeking O'Neil's knowledge of the game when the Seattle Mariners would have road games in Kansas City. "With Buck, I felt something big. The way he carried himself, you can see and tell and feel he loved this game."[23]

Final year


On May 13, 2006, he received an honorary doctorate in education from Missouri Western State University where he also gave the commencement speech.[24]

O'Neil was a member of the 18-member Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee from 1981 to 2000 and played an important role in the induction of six Negro league players from 1995 to 2001 during the time the Hall had a policy of inducting one Negro leaguer per year.[25] O'Neil was nominated to a special Hall ballot for Negro league players, managers, and executives in 2006, but received fewer than the necessary nine votes (out of twelve) to gain admission; however, 17 other Negro league figures were selected.[26]

God's been good to me. They didn't think Buck was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. That's the way they thought about it and that's the way it is, so we're going to live with that. Now, if I'm a Hall of Famer for you, that's all right with me. Just keep loving old Buck. Don't weep for Buck. No, man, be happy, be thankful.[27]

On July 29, 2006, O'Neil spoke at the induction ceremony for the Negro league players at the Baseball Hall of Fame.[28]

The Kansas City T-Bones retired O'Neil's jersey. The team is now known as The Kansas City Monarchs as a tribute to O'Neil and former Monarchs players.

Just before the Hall of Fame ceremonies, O'Neil signed a contract with the Kansas City T-Bones on July 17 to allow him to play in the Northern League All-Star Game.[29] Before the game, O'Neil was "traded" to the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks and was listed as the starting shortstop, although after drawing an intentional walk, he was replaced before actually playing in the field. At the end of the inning, another "trade" was announced that brought O'Neil back to the Kansas City team, allowing him to lead off the bottom of the inning as well (drawing another intentional walk).[30]

The T-Bones originally claimed that O'Neil, at age 94 years, 8 months, and 5 days, would be by far the oldest person to appear in a professional baseball game (surpassing 83-year-old Jim Eriotes who had struck out in another Northern League game just a week earlier).[31][32] However, that claim was in error, as the Schaumburg Flyers of the Northern League had signed Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe to a one-game contract and allowed him to face one batter on June 19, 1999 when he was 96 years old.[33] While O'Neil was the second-oldest pro player, the claim was amended that he would be the oldest person to make a plate appearance in a professional baseball game.

The Kansas City T-Bones retired his number on May 26, 2006.[34] In 2021, the team rebranded itself as the Kansas City Monarchs as a salute to O'Neill and the historic franchise.[35]

Death and legacy

The Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat at Kauffman Stadium

On August 5, 2006, O'Neil was admitted to a Kansas City hospital after complaining that he did not feel well. He was admitted for fatigue and was released three days later only to be re-admitted on September 17. On September 28, Kansas City media reported O'Neil's condition had worsened.[36][37] On October 6, O'Neil died at the age of 94 due to heart failure and bone marrow cancer.[38]

During the ESPN opening day broadcast of the 2007 Kansas City Royals, on April 2, 2007, Joe Morgan announced the Royals would honor O'Neil by placing a fan in the Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat[39] 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 Section 101, Row C, Seat 1. Due to the renovations and section renumbering in 2009 the seat number is now Section 127, Row C, Seat 9, and the seat bottom is now padded. The first person to sit in "Buck's seat" was Buck O'Neil's brother, Warren G. O'Neil (1917–2013), who also played in the Negro American League.[40]

Presidential Medal of Freedom


On December 7, 2006, O'Neil was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush;[41] the award was presented to his brother, Warren, on his behalf on December 15. He was chosen due to his "excellence and determination both on and off the baseball field", according to the White House news release. He joins other baseball notables such as Roberto Clemente, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, and Jackie Robinson in receiving the United States' highest civilian honor. On November 13, 2012 the family of Buck O'Neil donated his Presidential Medal of Freedom to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in honor of what would have been O'Neil's 101st birthday. The medal will be showcased in a special area of the NLBM dedicated to O'Neil.[42]

Beacon of Life Award


On March 31, 2007—the day of Major League Baseball's first annual Civil Rights Game—O'Neil was posthumously awarded MLB's first annual Beacon of Life Award at the inaugural MLB Beacon Awards luncheon.[43][44]

Lifetime Achievement Award


On October 24, 2007, O'Neil was posthumously given a Lifetime Achievement Award named after him. He had fallen short in the Hall of Fame vote in 2006; however, he was honored in 2007 with a new award given by the Hall of Fame, to be named after him.

In 2008 a life size statue of O'Neil was placed on display inside the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum on 18th and Vine in Kansas City, and the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented no more than every three years.[45]

At the Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 27, 2008, Joe Morgan gave a dedication speech for the award and talked about O'Neil's life, repeatedly citing the title of O'Neil's autobiography, I Was Right on Time.

Baseball Hall of Fame


On November 5, 2021, O'Neil was selected to the final ballot of 10 candidates for consideration by the Early Days Committee during voting for induction to the Hall of Fame. Candidates needed to receive at least 12 of 16 votes (75%) for election, with the results to be announced in December.[46] On December 5, the Hall of Fame announced that O'Neil and Bud Fowler had been elected, with 13 and 12 votes, respectively.[47]

He was formally enshrined on July 24, 2022, with his niece Angela Terry accepting the nomination and delivering a speech on his behalf.[48]

Other honors


See also



  1. ^ On December 16, 2020, Major League Baseball declared the Negro leagues, from the span of 1920–1948, to be a "Major League".[1] O'Neil's statistics reflect his time in the Negro leagues from 1937–1948.


  1. ^ "MLB officially designates the Negro Leagues as 'Major League'". MLB.com. December 16, 2020. Retrieved August 7, 2023.
  2. ^ Muscat, Carrie. "Cubs made Buck O'Neil MLB's First Black Coach". MLB.com. Major League Baseball. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  3. ^ "Buck O'Neil".
  4. ^ "The Soul of Baseball". JoePosnanski.com. Archived from the original on May 8, 2019. Retrieved October 9, 2018.
  5. ^ "Zora Dust Tracks Heritage Marker 6". stlucieco.gov. Archived from the original on September 9, 2015. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  6. ^ Cummings, Ian (October 30, 2014). "Celebrating the Life of Buck O'Neil as Sarasota's Newtown Turns 100". WUSF Public Media. Retrieved December 6, 2021.
  7. ^ "Barnstorming & the Negro Leagues: 1900s–1930s". Baseball, the Color Line, and Jackie Robinson. American Memory from the Library of Congress. Retrieved October 8, 2006.
  8. ^ "John "Buck" O'Neil". nlbemusem.com. Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and Kansas State University College of Education. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  9. ^ Wojnarowski, Adrian (22 November 2005). "O'Neil Should be Headed to Cooperstown". ESPN.com. ESPN, Inc. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  10. ^ "Buck O'Neil: The Face of the Negro Leagues". Foxsports.com. Fox Sports Interactive Media, LLC. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  11. ^ Muscat, Carrie. "Cubs made Buck O'Neil MLB's First Black Coach". MLB.com. Major League Baseball. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  12. ^ SeamHeads, 2019
  13. ^ Hall of Fame Committee on African-American Baseball, 2006
  14. ^ "Cubs to Scout College Campuses". The Chicago Defender. December 24, 1955.
  15. ^ "Brock, others remember Buck O'Neil at funeral". ESPN.com. ESPN, Inc. 14 October 2006. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  16. ^ "'Cool Papa' Bell cools it to Hall". The Boston Globe. February 14, 1974.
  17. ^ Dodd, Rustin. "Buck O'Neil and the Cubs: Kansas City icon left a legacy in Chicago". Kansascity.com. The Kansas City Star. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  18. ^ "John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil". NLBM.com. Archived from the original on January 30, 2018. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  19. ^ Grathoff, Pete. "Buck O'Neil's life lessons from 1999 still apply today". KansasCity.com. The Kansas City Star. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  20. ^ Frese, David. "The Top 10 Kansas City Moments on David Letterman". KansasCity.com. The Kansas City Star. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  21. ^ "Negro Leagues Baseball Museum". NLBM.com. Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Archived from the original on August 22, 2017. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  22. ^ Eskew, Alan (February 2002). "HISTORY/NEGRO LEAGUES/FEATURES/Award winners: Pierre, Rollins two of many to win Legacy Awards". MLB.com. Retrieved October 5, 2011. O'Neil, who scouted and signed Joe Carter, ....
  23. ^ Passan, Jeff (July 19, 2012). "Ichiro draws from lessons learned from friend Buck O'Neil as he ponders future with Mariners". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
  24. ^ "Spring Commencement 2006" (PDF). Missouriwestern.edu. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 26, 2015. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  25. ^ Schudel, Matt. "Buck O'Neil Was Voice for Negro Leagues". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  26. ^ Posnanski, Joe (10 October 2016). "THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENED Ten years later, it's impossible to forget Buck O'Neil". NBCSports.com. NBC Sports World. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  27. ^ "?". The Kansas City Star. February 28, 2006.
  28. ^ MP3 audio: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 20, 2007. Retrieved October 7, 2006.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  29. ^ "T-Bones Sign "Buck" O'Neil; "Patriarch of Independent Baseball" To Be Oldest to Play Professionally". TBonesbaseball.com. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  30. ^ Skretta, Dave. "At 94, Buck O'Neil Plays in All-Star Game". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  31. ^ "Ex-Negro Leaguer digs in at All-Star game". Associated Press. July 18, 2006. Archived from the original on July 19, 2006. Retrieved October 9, 2006.
  32. ^ "Stars of All Ages Shine in N.L. All-Star Game". July 18, 2006. Archived from the original on November 15, 2006. Retrieved October 9, 2006.
  33. ^ "Key Dates in Schaumburg Flyers History". Schaumburg Flyers. Archived from the original on August 11, 2006. Retrieved October 9, 2006.
  34. ^ "T-Bones Retire "Buck" O'Neil's Uniform Number". Kansas City T-Bones. May 26, 2006. Retrieved June 16, 2013.
  35. ^ "New for 2021: Kansas City Monarchs". Ballpark Digest. August Publications. January 21, 2021. Retrieved October 31, 2021.
  36. ^ "Buck O'Neil Remains Hospitalized". TheKansasCityChannel.com. September 28, 2006. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved October 9, 2006.
  37. ^ Mellinger, Sam (September 29, 2006). "O'Neil's health worries his friends". The Kansas City Star. Retrieved October 9, 2006.
  38. ^ "Baseball Legend Buck O'Neil Dies At 94". October 6, 2006. Archived from the original on March 27, 2007. Retrieved October 9, 2006.
  39. ^ "2011 Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat Contest". KansasCityRoyals.com. MLB Advanced Media, L.P. Retrieved October 15, 2011.
  40. ^ "Memories are Cherished for a Lifetime," Democrat and Chronicle, September 23, 1994, p. 1D (accessible via Newspapers.com at www.newspapers.com/clip/94607387/memories-are-cherished-for-a-lifetime/)
  41. ^ "Buck O'Neil awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom". McClatchy Newspapers. December 7, 2006. Retrieved December 8, 2006.
  42. ^ Kaegel, Dick (November 13, 2012). "Negro Leagues Museum gets new O'Neil items". MLB.com via KC Royals website. Retrieved November 14, 2012.[permanent dead link]
  43. ^ Bloom, Barry M. (March 31, 2007). "Beacons awarded at poignant luncheon: Three winners honored on day of Civil Rights Game". MLB Advanced Media, L.P. (MLB.com). Retrieved October 15, 2011. [The award] was accepted by Don Motley, the executive director of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum ....
  44. ^ Hill, Justice B. (March 27, 2007). "O'Neil to receive Beacon Award: Baseball ambassador recognized for his dedication". MLB.com. 2011 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. Archived from the original on June 18, 2013. Retrieved October 15, 2011.
  45. ^ Hall of Fame Honors Buck O'Neil with Lifetime Achievement Award
  46. ^ "Early Baseball, Golden Days Era Committee Ballots Announced | Baseball Hall of Fame".
  47. ^ "Fowler, Hodges, Kaat, Miñoso, Oliva, O'Neil Elected to Hall of Fame". baseballhall.org. December 5, 2021. Retrieved December 5, 2021.
  48. ^ Rogers, Anne. "O'Neil takes his place among legends in Hall". mlb.com. MLB Advanced Media, LP. Retrieved 25 July 2022.
  49. ^ Buck O'Neil Run/Walk Archived April 25, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. Kansas City Sports Commission website. Retrieved October 16, 2011.
  50. ^ "Shrine of the Eternals – Inductees" Archived 2020-09-19 at the Wayback Machine. Baseball Reliquary. Retrieved August 14, 2019.
  51. ^ "Buck O'Neil to be inducted in Hall of Famous Missourians". KCTV-TV via website. February 27, 2012. Retrieved February 27, 2012.[permanent dead link]
  52. ^ E. Spencer Schubert
  53. ^ "USS Kansas City honors its namesake city with street signs, galley named after Buck O'Neil". 19 June 2020.

Further reading