The Early Baseball Era committee elected Carrabelle native Buck O’Neil to the Hall of Fame on Sunday.
O’Neail received 81.3 percent of the vote by the 16-member committee; the threshold for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame is 75 percent. Most of O’Neil’s fans felt he was robbed of membership into the Hall in 2006, when he missed the 75 percent threshold by only one vote.
Despite being snubbed by the committee, he spoke on behalf of the 17 who were selected from the ranks of the Negro Leagues. This gesture was emblematic of O’Neil’s character and grace. He passed away a few months later.
O’Neil’s legend only grew larger in death. His supporters around the country stretched from Florida, where he was born and raised, to Kansas City, where he lived and help found the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, to Cooperstown where they created the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award.
O’Neil was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006 by President George W. Bush. The rebroadcasting of Ken Burns’ documentary “Baseball” also helped keep his spirit alive.
I am not exactly sure when Buck O’Neil entered my psyche, but once there he was firmly embedded. He certainly shined in Burns’ “Baseball” as he delivered fabulous commentary and wonderful tales of the defunct Negro Leagues. The elder baseball statesman gained national notoriety as a result of his performance in the documentary. I was drawn to his wit and charm. I then began to research his life and baseball career.
My research and curiosity lead to barnstorming for O’Neil. Barnstorming in Buck O’Neil’s time took him all around the country, where he played on teams including Satchel Paige’s All Stars in urban areas and small towns hungry for baseball. O’Neil was later honored by towns and cities he called home along the way, including Carrabelle, Sarasota, and Kansas City. The fact that all these places claimed him as their own is a testament to his legacy and character.
O’Neil explains in his autobiography “I Was Right On Time” that he came into baseball in the grand era of Negro Leagues baseball. He was part of a group that laid the foundation for Jackie Robinson’s eventual breaking of baseball’s color barrier.
In 1962, O’Neil became the first African American coach in major league baseball history, effectively serving as the bridge between Jackie and Frank Robinson, the first African American manager in major league baseball.
Despite that fact, he is not yet a member of the Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame. He served as one of the first African American scouts for the Cubs, starting in the mid-1950s, and his career with the Cubs spanned over 30 years. It is rather inexplicable that O’Neil is not in the Cubs Hall of Fame. He will automatically become a member of the Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame once he is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 24, 2022.
Buck might have felt he was right on time, but it seems that everyone else was late to the party. It is unfortunate he was not inducted into the Hall of Fame during his lifetime. Better late than never seems more appropriate.
Regardless, I am looking forward to the day the sign coming into town reads, “Carrabelle Florida ‘Home of Negro Baseball Leagues Standout, recipient of Baseball’s Lifetime Achievement Award (and Member of the Baseball Hall of Fame) John Jordan ‘Buck’ O’Neil Jr.”
Joshua Weaver is a bonafide baseball aficionado. He can be reached at email@example.com
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