Any opportunity to watch an interview with Buck O’Neil is always a treat, and this is no exception. I really love how Buck talks about Jackie Robinson in this, and the interview as a whole is so enjoyable.
John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil, Jr. was born on November 13, 1911 in Carrabelle, Florida. He grew up in Sarasota, Florida, where he worked in the celery fields while his father ran a pool hall in Newtown. O’Neil later moved to Jacksonville with relatives, where he attended Edward Waters College to complete high school and two years of college courses. He was nicknamed “Buck” after the co-owner of the Miami Giants, Buck O’Neal. His father, John Jordan O’Neil, Sr., played on a local team, thus exposing Buck to baseball at an early age.
O’Neil left Florida in 1934 to play semi-professional baseball, collecting several years of barnstorming experience. His efforts were rewarded when he signed with the Memphis Red Sox in 1937 and then joined the Kansas City Monarchs in 1938. O’Neil had a career batting average of .288 (based on statistics from 1937 to 1950), which included four seasons above .300, and he also played in three East-West All-Star Games and two Negro World Series.
Buck O’Neil served in the United States Navy in 1944 and 1945 during World War II. He served in a naval construction battalion in New Jersey during this time, and then returned to the Monarchs at the start of the 1946 season.
O’Neil was named manager for the Monarchs in 1948, continuing to play first base full time through the 1951 season. He continued to manage the Monarchs through 1955, serving as a reserve player and pinch-hitter during these later years, winning pennants in 1953 and 1955. Following the 1955 season, O’Neil resigned as manager of the Monarchs and became a scout for the Chicago Cubs. He was named the first black coach in the major leagues by the Cubs in 1962, though he was not assigned in-game base coaching duties. In 1988, O’Neil joined the Kansas City Royals as a scout, and in 1998 was named “Midwest Scout of the Year.”
In 1990, O’Neil played a major role in the establishment of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, and served as its honorary board chairman until his death. In 1996, O’Neil became the recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Business Administration degree from the University of Missouri – Kansas City, and in 2006 he received an honorary doctorate in education from Missouri Western State University, where he also gave the commencement speech.
Also in 2006, O’Neil was nominated to a special Hall of Fame ballot for Negro League players, managers, and executives in 2006, but received fewer than the necessary nine votes (out of twelve) to gain admission. Nevertheless, the always good-natured O’Neil spoke at the induction ceremony for the seventeen Negro League players who did get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame that year.
After several weeks in the hospital, Buck O’Neil died on October 6, 2006 in Kansas City, Missouri due to heart failure and bone marrow cancer.
On December 7, 2006, O’Neil was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush due to his “excellence and determination both on and off the baseball field.” On Opening Day of 2007, the Kansas City Royals announced they would honor O’Neil by placing a fan in the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat 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 2021, the Early Baseball Era Committee elected Buck O’Neil to the Baseball Hall of Fame with 81.3% of the vote. He was formally inducted on July 24, 2022.
A few nights ago, in recognition of the 75th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum hosted a panel of authors who discussed the legacy of Jackie Robinson. The discussion covered more than just Jackie Robinson the baseball player. These gentlemen also delved into Robinson’s role in the Civil Rights Movement and what he would think of the Black Lives Matter movement today.
I missed the live stream of the panel, but fortunately, the video is still available through YouTube. It’s worth a listen, if you’re interested. There are a few ads in the beginning of the stream, so if you want to skip right to the content, it begins at 6:10.
In case you missed it, a couple nights ago, the Bob Kendrick and the Negro Leagues Museum hosted a virtual panel featuring Ken Burns, Bob Costas, Joe Posnanski, and CC Sabathia. These gentlemen talked primarily about Buck O’Neil, telling stories about when they first met O’Neil and what he was like as a person. They also talked about Jackie Robinson, the Negro Leagues, the breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball, and blacks in baseball today.
A recording of the stream can be found on YouTube and is definitely worth a listen if you enjoy hearing stories about baseball.
For anyone who is interested, this afternoon, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum will be live streaming the Hall of Fame Selection Ceremonies, beginning at 4:00 p.m. Central Time. The ceremonies will reveal results of the Early Baseball Era and Golden Days Era Committees vote, and of notable consideration for the Hall of Fame is the great Buck O’Neil.
The event will be streamed via NLBM’s Facebook here.
You can find additional information from the Kansas City Star here.
Buck O’Neil is on Hall of Fame Early Baseball Era ballot. Shown here with the KC Monarchs, he was grandson of a slave & became one of the great storytellers of the Negro Leagues. Later coached & scouted for @Cubs. Read more in @sabr BioProject https://t.co/30Dhq1qVB3 pic.twitter.com/gfeUPqBJpq— SABR BioProject (@SABRbioproject) December 4, 2021
Thanks as ever to @nlbmprez for his time and candor, and also appreciated further perspective from Negro Leagues historian Phil Dixon:— Vahe Gregorian (@vgregorian) December 3, 2021
Why the ‘one place to be on Sunday’ is the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum https://t.co/6nbNKLQvKt
Tell a friend, especially if your friend is on the Early Baseball Era @BaseballHall committee –— MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (@MLBNetworkRadio) December 4, 2021
An all-new 𝑩𝑳𝑨𝑪𝑲 𝑫𝑰𝑨𝑴𝑶𝑵𝑫𝑺 is out now wherever you get your podcasts, w/ @NLBMPrez & @JPosnanski on the HOF case for the GREAT Buck O’Neil:
🖱️ https://t.co/NT7vlUY2Ce pic.twitter.com/T7OC4NvDHy
Will the 2nd time be the charm for Buck O’Neil’s @baseballhall induction? @kcur reporter, @GregEchlin, recounts Buck’s bid 15 yrs after barely missing! @Royals @NLBMuseumKC @KCMO @QuintonLucasKC @VisitKC https://t.co/9ndMCUAyNb— Bob Kendrick (@nlbmprez) December 5, 2021
In case you missed it, yesterday, the minor league team Kansas City T-Bones announced they have changed their name to the Kansas City Monarchs. The name change comes as part of a partnership with the Negro Leagues Museum (also located in Kansas City).
In case you missed the original livestream, the recording of the Negro Leagues Museum’s conversation about Buck O’Neil can still be watched on YouTube. The stories these gentlemen told about Buck were a joy to listen to, and they also had a great conversation about race and baseball in general. If you get the opportunity, it’s definitely worth your time.
If you need something to do on Friday, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum will be hosting a conversation between Bob Costas, Joe Posnanski, Bob Kendrick, and Ken Burns in celebration of the great Buck O’Neil. This Friday, November 13th would have been Buck’s 109th birthday, and it sounds like the plan is for this group of speakers to share their memories and stories about the man, the ballplayer, the legend.
TELLING TALES ABOUT BUCK! Join me, @KenBurns, Bob Costas & @JPosnanski this Friday as we share stories about the legendary Buck O’Neil on his 109th B-Day! Catch the conversation live on the NLBM’s @Facebook & @YouTube channel! @MLB @Royals @Sut_ESPN @MLBNetwork @vgregorian RT pic.twitter.com/08ZtbP9bwX— Bob Kendrick (@nlbmprez) November 10, 2020
Buck O’Neil is hailed as a legend, especially here in the Kansas City area. Not only was O’Neil a great ballplayer, but his achievements off the field were arguably even greater. He not only worked to spread interest in the Negro leagues, he also played a huge part in the establishment of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go on a work-sponsored trip to Kansas City to see the American Jazz Museum, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and Sporting Park. Information regarding the tour was sent out a couple weeks ago, and naturally, upon seeing the Negro Leagues museum on the list, I jumped at the opportunity to sign up. Initially, I found myself placed on the waiting list, as over 140 people signed up for 98 spots on the tour, but with one day remaining, enough people canceled their reservations to grant me a spot of my own.
I hadn’t seen the Jazz and Negro Leagues museums in approximately ten years, so I was eager to revisit them. With such a large group, we were split in two, and my group started in the Jazz Museum. As part of our program, an employee of the museum spent about half-an-hour speaking to us first in a somewhat-dramatized fashion about various figures during that time-period. Ironically, she also mentioned at one point that there was also a video available that we wouldn’t have time to watch during our time, and I found myself thinking that we would have been better off watching the video than watching this lady act, especially since she spoke so low at times that I eventually lost track and stopped paying attention.
Once she finally cut us loose, however, I was much happier about the experience. The Jazz Museum is rather small, though one of the best parts about it is listening to the wide variety of music tracks where various styles and techniques are demonstrated. I also enjoyed the opportunity to read and learn more about Count Basie, the great jazz pianist whom I’ve admired since my own piano-playing days.
Finally, it was on to the Negro Leagues Museum. Fortunately, this time we weren’t subjected to the animated ramblings of a wanna-be Broadway soliloquist and could jump right into the meat of the museum.
It doesn’t appear that too much has changed within the museum in the last ten years, but then, once history has occurred, it cannot be changed either (barring the appearance of a mad scientist with a DeLorean, of course). There was still the field with the bronze baseball players, the timelines of events throughout the path, the uniforms, the lockers, the equipment. I don’t recall the Golden Gloves on display during my last trip through, but somehow, I’m pretty sure they were there too.
If nothing else, going through both of these museums serves as a good reminder of where our country has been, and how much work we have yet to do with regards to segregation and equality. Every culture has so much to offer to the world in general, and it’s a shame when we, as a people, deliberately wall ourselves off from exposure to those experiences.
Lunch at the Legends followed the museums. After a tasty lunch of chicken a la mer and a bit of browsing through a vareity of stores, it was on to Sporting Park, home of Sporting KC.
Throughout the tour, I found myself thinking that it’s too bad that I’m not a soccer fan, because this stadium is truly impressive. We were shown the variety of suites and other spaces available for a wide range of events. We also had the opportunity to see the press room and the locker room.
Those chairs in the locker room, we were told, are $4,000 Ferrari seats, complete with cup holders, USB ports, and outlets. Yes, I had the chance to sit in one, and yes, they are very comfortable. Clearly, our soccer team is enjoying the good life here in Kansas City. Somehow I doubt that either the Royals or the Chiefs are enjoying such luxurious amenities.
I don’t know what next year’s tour, if there is one, will hold. If I get the opportunity to make suggestions, however, a tour of Kauffman Stadium would be at the top of my list. As many times as I’ve been to the K, there are still parts of it that I have not seen (the high-roller suites, namely), and I would be completely star-struck by the chance to sit at Alex Gordon’s or Salvador Perez’s locker. I can only hope.