John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil
The charismatic John Jordan O'Neil, or "Buck" as he was affectionately known, is an American hero. His eloquence, grace and genuine love for people have captured the hearts and imaginations of kindred spirits worldwide. His illustrious baseball career spanned seven (7) decades and helped make him a foremost authority and, arguably, the game's greatest ambassador.
Buck was born November 13, 1911 in Carrabelle, Florida. His father, who played for local teams, introduced him to baseball at an early age. He was nicknamed "Buck" after the co-owner of the Miami Giants, Buck O'Neal. A segregated America denied O'Neil the chance to play Major League baseball so he showcased his skills in the Negro Leagues starting his professional career in 1937 with the Memphis Red Sox. He joined the Kansas City Monarchs in 1938, was named player/manager for the club in 1948 and continued his association with the team through the end of the 1955 season. Buck had his tenure with the Monarchs interrupted from 1943-45 while serving in the United States Navy during WWII.
After getting discharged from the Navy, Buck rejoined the Monarchs in 1946 and didn't miss a beat. The talented first baseman led the league in hitting with a 353 average and followed that in '47 with a career best .358 mark. He hit .345 in '49. Buck finished his career with a lifetime batting average of .288.
He played in three Negro American League All-Star games and two Negro American League World Series. In addition to his career with the Monarchs, Buck teamed with the legendary Satchel Paige during the height of Negro League barnstorming in 1930's and 40's to play countless exhibition games.
Following his Monarch career, Buck moved on to Major League Baseball as a scout with the Chicago Cubs and is credited with signing Hall of Fame baseball players Ernie Banks and Lou Brock to their first pro contracts. In 1962, Buck broke barriers when the Chicago Cubs named him the Major's first black coach. In 1988, Buck began scouting for the Kansas City Royals and was named "Midwest Scout of the Year" in 1998.
Buck rose to national prominence with his compelling narration of the Negro Leagues as part of Ken Burns' PBS baseball documentary. Since then, he has been the source of countless national interviews including appearances on "Late Night with David Letterman," and "Late, Late Show with Tom Snyder."
In 1990, Buck co-founded the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) in Kansas City, MO and served as its Board Chairman for 16 years until his death in 2006. He would appear before a committee of the United States Senate where his inspired testimony helped the NLBM gain National Designation from Congress as "America's National Negro Leagues Museum." Buck was also a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee until 2001, leading the charge for deservant Negro Leaguers to be inducted. In 2006, 17 Negro Leagues veterans were honored by Cooperstown in an historic vote by special election. Buck, to the dismay of the baseball world, was not selected to join this distinguished group.
Although his exclusion from the Hall outraged many, Buck stood tall and taught the nation a valuable lesson on how to handle disappointment and adversity. Buck would push aside his own personal disappointment and graciously accepted and invitation from the National Baseball Hall of Fame to speak on behalf of the 17 Negro League inductees. Many believe that moment ranks as one of the most selfless acts in American sports history. Two months later Buck died at age 94, one month shy of his 95th birthday.
Our nation, and baseball fans worldwide, were sadden by the news of Buck's passing on Oct. 6, 2006. His impact, however, continued to be recognized after his death, as he received several prestigious awards. These included the nation's highest civilian honor, The Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented to his family by President George W. Bush.
Today, O'Neil's legacy, and the legacies of the more than 2,600 men and women who played in the Negro Leagues, live on at the NLBM, or the "house that Buck built."
Partial listing of Buck O'Neil Awards & Honors
2008: Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievment Award-National Baseball Hall of Fame (posthumous)
2007: Civil Rights Game "Beacon of Life" Award - Major League Baseball (posthumous)
2007: Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat -Kauffman Stadium (posthumous)
2006: Presidential Medal of Freedom (posthumous)
2001: "John 'Buck' O'Neil Way" street dedicated in 18th & Vine Historic District
2000: Missouri State Historical Society Distinguished Service Medal and Certificate
1999: Florida Sports Hall of Fame induction award
1999: Trumpet Award - Turner Broadcasting
1997: "Mr. Baseball" Award from the Kansas City Royals
1997: Lifetime Leadership Award from Kansas State University
1996: Kansas City Sports "Walk of Stars" induction award
1996: International Afro-American Sports Hall of Fame induction award
Honorary Degrees: William Jewell College, Missouri Western University, Duquense University
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