Photo credits: National Baseball Hall of Fame Library
Buck O’Neil never showed animosity or regret for not being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame during his lifetime. He pleaded with people who loved and supported him to continue doing so till his death.
They may finally rejoice, after a near-miss that had many questioning if he would ever make it.
On Sunday (December 5), O’Neil was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame with Minnie Mioso, Gil Hodges, and three other legendary players.
It was O’Neil’s first opportunity to make the Hall of Fame under the new guidelines acknowledging Negro League achievements. Jackie Robinson shattered racial boundaries in Major League Baseball in 1947.
In the History Books at Last
When MLB announced in December 2020 that it was “rectifying a historic lapse in the game’s history” by reclassifying the Negro Leagues as a major league, the statistics of over 3,400 players were added to the record books.
O’Neil was a two-time All-Star first baseman in the Negro Leagues and the National and American Leagues’ first Black coach. Until his death in 2006 at the age of 94, he was the ideal advocate for the sport, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously and already being honored with a life-sized statue inside the Hall of Fame.
Despite all of O’Neil’s contributions to baseball, most younger enthusiasts were unaware of him. It helped when they viewed director Ken Burns’ nine-part documentary “Baseball.” This show premiered on PBS in 1994.
Nevertheless, O’Neil’s elegance, humor, and vivid narrative brought back the days of Negro Leagues giants — Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Cool Papa Bell, as well as a slew of other Black players who had their names faded from history.
O’Neil’s Career Contributions
O’Neil spent a decade in the Negro Leagues as a player and manager, helping the Kansas City Monarchs win championships. He had a career batting average of .258 and hit nine home runs.
However, statistics by themselves cannot fully represent the significance of John Jordan O’Neil Jr. to baseball. O’Neil worked as a scout for the Chicago Cubs. He also coached the Cubs for a number of years.
The legend’s larger-than-life influence continues to be experienced to this day.