Buck O’Neil played and managed in the Negro Leagues for decades and became the first Black coach in Major League Baseball when the Cubs made him part of the College of Coaches in 1962. Sadly, though, he would not be permitted to be part of the rotation of “head coaches” in that ill-fated experiment. After that, O’Neil became a tireless ambassador for baseball, and in 2006, the Hall of Fame created a committee whose purpose was to induct worthy Negro League figures.
It seemed almost certain that O’Neil would be inducted — until he wasn’t, per Alec Lewis of The Athletic:
Then the Hall of Fame called current Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick and informed him the news that he relayed to O’Neil: “Buck, we didn’t get the votes.”
“We were all devastated,” Kendrick said in a phone conversation Friday afternoon. “We were devastated. Hell, I still get mad to this day when I think about it.”
O’Neil, hearing the news without little explanation for what he lacked, responded the way those who knew him best knew he would: “I’m still Buck,” he said. “Look at me. I’ve lived a good life.” A room of people waited downstairs for the news. O’Neil, Kendrick recalled, walked down and “wrapped his arms around the entire room, saying, ‘”Shed no tears for Buck. No, no. Ol’ God’s been good to me. You can see that, don’t you? If I’m a Hall of Famer for you, that’s all I need. Just keep loving ol’ Buck.’”
O’Neil’s class and dignity shined throughout his life. When the 17 Negro League players who did receive enough votes in 2006 were inducted that summer, O’Neil spoke in Cooperstown on their behalf and if you have not seen his speech before, it is absolutely worth seven and a half minutes of your time:
O’Neil passed away at age 94 just a couple of months after he made that beautiful speech.
Now, the Hall of Fame has announced the names of players to be considered by two groups of voters, the Golden Days and Early Baseball Committees, and O’Neil is on the list:
The Early Baseball Era ballot includes Bill Dahlen, John Donaldson, Bud Fowler, Vic Harris, Grant “Home Run” Johnson, Lefty O’Doul, Buck O’Neil, Dick “Cannonball” Redding, Allie Reynolds and George “Tubby” Scales. All of these candidates are deceased.
The Golden Days Era ballot includes Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Roger Maris, Minnie Miñoso, Danny Murtaugh, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce and Maury Wills. Of this group, Kaat, Oliva and Wills are living.
There are many worthy candidates on both lists. I’m not as familiar with the Early Baseball players as I am with the Golden Days list, but O’Neil certainly rates induction. From the Golden Days list, I hope Allen, Hodges, Kaat and Miñoso get in this time. Each committee consists of 16 people and 12 must vote “yes” for a candidate to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Results of the committee votes will be announced live on MLB Network Sunday, December 5 at 5 p.m. CT.
And if Buck O’Neil is elected to the Hall, I hope they play that video in Cooperstown on Induction Day, Sunday, July 24, 2022.