Anyone that ever came across Buck O’Neil,
either on the baseball diamond or in the game of life always had a reason to smile.
Even in his later years, the charismatic
ambassador of baseball was as sharp as ever, traveling all over the country, focused on spreading the history of the league
that he, along with players like Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson made world famous.
However, in the end, his chaotic travel
schedule, that saw him play in the international league all-star game and traveling the country to promote the game he loved,
just weeks after he missed being elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame by one vote, eventually caught up to him.
On Friday, October 6, the Negro League Legend passed away at the age of 94 due to heart failure and a long battle with cancer.
While many casual baseball fans are
still unaware of O’Neil’s feats in the Negro leagues, were he was a lifetime .288 hitter and won two championships
as a manager, they were even less aware of what a great scout he was, signing players like Lou Brock and Joe Carter and was
even named scout of the year for the Kansas City Royals in 1988. Simply put, O’Neil’s whole life was baseball
and he wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“This is where I belong. This
means everything to me,” said O’Neil on July 26, when he was honored at the Brooklyn Baseball Gallery for his
contributions to the game. “I made my living in baseball for 70 years; this is my life.”
The one place it seemed where O’Neil
got the credit he deserved was Kansas City, where a bronze statue and dozens of
pictures of him seem to cover every inch of the Negro League
Baseball Museum. This loving and dedicated group
of people that appreciated what O’Neil represented more than anyone else in the world lobbied tirelessly to help the
baseball great gain admission to Hall of Fame, to have him miss by allegedly one vote [the Veterans Committee decided to keep
the results a secret]. Rather than rip the Veterans Committee like so many others who needed their votes to get in the hall,
O’Neil was as charismatic as ever, pointing the finger at no one.
“God's been good to me. They didn't think Buck was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame,” O’Neil
said in Cooperstown, the same day he opened the Hall doors to 17 other Negro League greats. “That's the way they thought about
it and that's the way it is, so we're going to live with that. Now, if I'm a Hall of Famer for you, that's all right with
me. Just keep loving old Buck. Don't weep for Buck. No, man, be happy, be thankful.”
-On a personal note, having both been
to the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City and having the pleasure of meeting and talking with O’Neil this past
summer, I can honestly say that it is a travesty that this man isn’t in the Hall of Fame, a travesty that needs to be
amended as soon as possible. His career numbers alone may not be enough to get him in, but over 40 years of dedication and
sharing of experiences with thousands of people about the Negro Leagues has inspired countless books and movies, providing
a new generation more than ample access into a lost era of baseball history, making him just as worthy of Hall of Fame entry
as Babe Ruth, Tom Seaver or Hank Aaron.
It’s a shame that the Veterans
Committee doesn’t understand that.