O’Neil gets long-awaited Hall of Fame recognition 15 years after his death; Negro Leaguer, Minnie Minoso and early Black Baseball star, Bud Fowler, also elected.
This time there were tears of joy flowing freely at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) after National Baseball Hall of Fame President, Josh Rawitch, announced that John “Buck” O’Neil had been voted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Rawitch made the announcement during a nationally televised selection show on the MLB Network on Sunday, Dec. 5 triggering a chain reaction of elation, and tears, from the more than 300 people in attendance to watch the results of the announcement.
The legendary O’Neil, the beloved founder, and longtime Chairman of the NLBM, had finally reached the mountain top of baseball immortality and the news generated a room-shaking roar from a nervous but hopeful crowd who had gathered on the Field of Legends at the NLBM. It was in that exact space on February 27, 2006, that friends, fans, and media members were stunned by the news that O’Neil had been passed over for induction. That year, the tears flowed from anguish and anger of the heartbreak of O’Neil being denied and from his powerful and impassioned concession speech where he consoled a room of more than 300 to let them know it was “okay.”
“I had an opportunity and in this great country of ours that’s all you can ask,” O’Neil said that day. “They didn’t think Ol Buck was good enough, so we’ve got to live with that. But, if I’m a Hall of Famer in your eyes that’s all that matters to me. Just keep on lovin Ol Buck.”
The strength that O’Neil demonstrated endeared him even more to his legion of fans and the man recognized as ‘baseball’s greatest ambassador’ pushed through his disappointment and went to Cooperstown to speak on behalf of the 17 Negro League players and executives who were selected in 2006. “It was the most selfless act in American sports history,” said Bob Kendrick, NLBM President. “The 17 elected players and executives were all dead. They didn’t have a voice. And there was Buck speaking for those who couldn’t speak for themselves when the world was saying it should be his Hall of Fame speech.
O’Neil, who died two months after delivering the speech, started for the Kansas City Monarchs from 1938-55 and would leave the Monarchs to become a scout with the Chicago Cubs, He is credited with signing future Hall of Fame players, Ernie Banks, Lou Brock and Lee Smith. O’Neil would be named Major League Baseball’s first African American Coach with the Cubs in 1962 and rose to national stardom for his compelling role in filmmaker Ken Burn’s epic documentary, “Baseball.” O’Neil and the late, Horace Peterson, would establish the NLBM in 1990 where O’Neil served as Board Chairman for 16 years. He was named on 13 of 16 ballots (81.3 percent) from the Early Baseball Era Committee that the Hall of Fame assembled. He needed 12 votes (75 percent) to gain induction.
Bud Fowler, who is recognized as the first Black professional baseball player, was named on 12 ballots, and earned induction. There were seven Negro League players (including O’Neil and Fowler) on the 10-person ballot. Minnie Minoso, who began his celebrated baseball career with the New York Cubans of the Negro Leagues, was elected from the Golden Days Era Committee. He passed away in 2015. O’Neil, Fowler and Minoso will be posthumously inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in ceremonies on July 24, 2022, in Cooperstown, NY. The NLBM has announced that it would plan a Kansas City to Cooperstown celebration and return home for a Buck O’Neil Hall of Fame Induction Gala on Saturday, Nov. 12th in conjunction with O’Neil’s 111th Birthday Bash. “Buck’s selection for the Hall of Fame is an incredible way to end what has been an amazing year for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum,” Kendrick said. “It is the perfect springboard propelling us into 2022 for what potentially will be the most important year in recent museum history.”