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The National Baseball Hall of Fame – Buck O’Neil

Happy days are here again at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum! The National Baseball Hall of Fame finally recognized what all of us have known for decades: that Buck O’Neil belongs in the Hall of Fame. The announcement was made by Josh Rawitch, Hall of Fame president. “I’m still basking in the glow of everything that has really transpired over the course of this year,” Bob Kendrick, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, said. He added, “What a way for us to finish last year with three Negro Leaguers being voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, including our very own Buck O’Neil. This, we believe, will propel us into an amazing 2022. I think it’s going to be the most important year in recent Museum history… it takes it to another level. I’ve been smiling since 5:30 on December 5th, when Josh Rawitch made it official.” 

Buck O’Neil was a starter for the Kansas City Monarchs from 1938 until 1955. After his playing career ended, he served as a scout with the Chicago Cubs. In 1962, he became a coach with the Cubs – the first Black coach in Major League Baseball. Buck’s star quality was on display for all to see in Baseball, the documentary by Ken Burns. In 1990, Buck and Horace Peterson established the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Buck served as the organization’s chairman for 16 years. In February 2006, Buck was denied election to the Hall of Fame. His reaction was a reminder to his fans of what grace under pressure truly is. After giving a concession speech to console and calm supporters, he next went to Cooperstown, New York, home of the Hall of Fame, to speak on behalf of the 17 men who had been elected. Why on earth was that Buck’s responsibility? None of the 17 were still living. That’s right – the one person who could have relished the honor was denied it, and yet he stood up for all the others. 

It was a shameful moment in the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s history. Buck died two months later. Fifteen years later, the Hall of Fame is belatedly honoring him. In our view, the Hall of Fame benefits from his presence – not the other way around.  

That said, we imagine Buck would be more gracious about the situation. He would be quick to acknowledge that the election of a player from Our Town is always a reason for celebration. Kiona Sinks, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, noted, “Kansas City has been at the helm of innovation since the beginning. It’s no different today, when I think about the story of the Negro Leagues, and the great Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Since 1990, we’ve been cultivating and amplifying America’s pastime.”   

This year marks the 102th anniversary of the Negro National League. In honor of the occasion, the United States Mint has created the 2022 Negro Leagues Baseball Commemorative Coin Program. Bob Kendrick, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, stated, “The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is thrilled to partner with the United States Mint on the release of these historic coins that beautifully capture the ‘winning spirit’ of the Negro Leagues. We hope that collectors and baseball fans alike will purchase these coins and support the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s efforts to ensure that the legacy and important life lessons of the Negro Leagues plays on.”

Read more in the February 5, 2022 issue of The Independent.
Photo credit: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

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