Friday, October 7, 2011

Negro League Baseball and Buck O'Neil

The Negro League baseball history fact of this week is a sad one.  Five years ago yesterday, John Jordan O’Neil, Jr. passed away.  Buck, as he was more famously known, was 93 years old when he died.  He played 17 years (1938 – 1955) with Negro League baseball’s Kansas City Monarchs, the last 7 also as the team’s manager.   He was not only a great ambassador for the historic Negro Leagues, but also for the game of baseball.  Through listening to Buck’s colorful telling of his experiences we got a glimpse of the time in our county’s history when baseball was king, but segregated.  Buck also played an integral part in the creation and development of the National Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City.
O’Neil was not chosen in the 2006 special election which inducted 12 players and 5 owners/executives from Negro League baseball into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  However, there is statue of him in Cooperstown, which is fitting since he is a lasting symbol of Negro League baseball.  The Hall of Fame also created the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award that honors the individual who broadens baseball’s appeal by using it to make a positive impact on society, just as Buck did.

Even though there are current signs baseball’s popularity is declining in black communities, the Negro Leagues will forever be tightly woven into the game’s history.  Major League Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Roy Campanella, Monte Irvin, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Ernie Banks were all former Negro Leaguers.  From using lights to play night games to having special promotions to attract fans, Negro League baseball has made tremendous lasting contributions to the game.

Negro League baseball is even a part of the current National League championship Series.  The Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Jerry Hairston, Jr. is the grandson of former Negro Leaguer Sam Hairston.

Buck O’Neil was more than an ambassador, he was a historian.  He was the expert on Negro League baseball history.  He loved being a part of it and was proud to tell the world about it.  

What are yor memories of Negro League baseball?    

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