John “Buck” O’Neil was a longtime player and manager in the Negro Leagues, and became the first Black coach in Major League Baseball in 1962, when the Cubs added him to the College of Coaches. Sadly, he was never allowed to be “head coach” — that would have been revolutionary for the time. He had previously been a scout for the Cubs and signed Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, George Altman and others.
O’Neil always made the best of things and his sunny personality promoted baseball for decades after his retirement from the game.
When 17 Negro Leaguers were given induction into the Hall of Fame in 2006, O’Neil was left out. Many were upset about this perceived snub, but not Buck — he was chosen to speak on behalf of those Negro Leaguers in Cooperstown in 2006:
If you’ve never seen that — or even if you have — it’s worth seven minutes of your time. O’Neil passed away only a couple of months later, aged 94.
I hope they play that video in Cooperstown this summer to celebrate O’Neil’s induction into the Hall. He was voted in as part of the Golden Days and Early Baseball Era balloting announced Sunday afternoon. O’Neil led a remarkable life well worth celebrating.
After the 2006 voting failed to elect O’Neil, the Hall of Fame created the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008:
The Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award is presented by the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors not more than once every three years to honor an individual whose extraordinary efforts enhanced baseball’s positive impact on society, broadened the game’s appeal, and whose character, integrity and dignity are comparable to the qualities exhibited by O’Neil. The Award, named after the late Buck O’Neil, was first given in 2008, with O’Neil being the first recipient.
In addition to O’Neil, Roland Hemond, Joe Garagiola, Rachel Robinson and former Phillies executive David Montgomery are the O’Neil Award winners to date. FWIW, anyone can make a nomination:
Nominations may be submitted by anyone, to the Hall of Fame, at any time, in writing. Nomination should detail how the proposed candidate carries O’Neil’s extraordinary traits. Nomination may be submitted to: Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, 25 Main Street, Cooperstown, NY 13326. Only submissions received by mail will be considered.
To be considered, nominations must be received by June 30 of any year preceding the announcement of a potential Buck O’Neil Award winner.
The next O’Neil Award will be presented in 2023, so June 30, 2022 would be the deadline.
Now, let me say a few words about Minnie Miñoso, also elected to the Hall today. As was the case for O’Neil, this is a long overdue honor that should have come during Miñoso’s lifetime. He was one of the best players of the 1950s, finishing in the top four of MVP voting four times. He’s so identified with the White Sox that it’s sad that he missed their 1959 pennant. He had been traded to Cleveland after 1957; the Sox reacquired him in 1960, then traded him to the Cardinals before the 1962 season.
Miñoso led the AL in HBP 10 times, and posted a .397 OBP in 10 full years with the White Sox, something people occasionally forget because of his two activations in 1976 and 1980 so he could play in five decades. Those might have been just a couple of Bill Veeck stunts (although Jerry Reinsdorf tried to do it again in 1993, after the Sox clinched the AL West, but the Commissioner’s office wouldn’t allow it), but Miñoso was a truly great player who was a catalyst for some great White Sox teams, one of the most important reasons the Sox came out of three decades of mostly losing after the Black Sox scandal and became meaningful again in Chicago. In many ways Miñoso is as important to White Sox fans as Ernie Banks is to Cubs fans.
Congratulations are in order for these two great men to finally be recognized by the Hall of Fame. It’s unfortunate that this couldn’t happen while they were still living.
While this article focuses on two men important to Chicago baseball, I don’t want to wrap up without also acknowledging the others elected today: Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva and Bud Fowler. Of those, Kaat and Oliva are living and will appear in Cooperstown for the induction ceremony Sunday, July 24, 2022, and all four are worthy recipients of baseball immortality in Cooperstown. Congratulations to all!