The Pride Of Negro League Baseball: The Story Of Buck O'Neil

Bleacher Report Senior Writer IOctober 22, 2008

Buck O'Neil is the pride and joy of Negro League Baseball when he played from 1937 to 1955. He could've been a great Major League player, but was only allowed to play in the Negro Leagues because of segregation.

Buck O'Neil was born on November 13, 1911 in Carabelle, Florida. At first, he was actually denied the opportunity to attend high school. He was forced to work in a celery field with his dad to support his family. O'Neil left home years later and attended Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida.

There, he completed all the high school courses and two years of college classes. He left the state of Florida in 1934 for a period of barnstorming. Barnstorming was a series of exhibition games. Most were between blacks and whites.

One of his teammates was a pretty good pitcher by the name of Leroy "Satchel" Paige. O'Neil signed in 1937 with the Memphis Red Sox of the NAL (Negro American League).

The next year, he signed with the Kansas City Monarchs, where his legacy is.

He was a huge part of the Monarchs until 1943, when he entered the military and was drafted. He was fighting for his country in 1943, 1944 and 1945.

O'Neil was by no means a power hitter, with a mere ten career home runs. He did hit .288 in his career, but only played 362 career games.

While Buck never had more then 27 RBI in a season, he also never played 60 games in a season, so it's unfair to say that he was a bad hitter.

In 1946 with the Monarchs, he had two homers, 27 RBI and a .350 batting average, winning the NAL batting title.

He also hit .344 in 1940, .338 in 1943, .305 in 1947, .330 in 1949, .328 in 1951 and .476 in 1953 (10-for-21).

Former outfielder Jimmy Crutchfield respected O'Neil: "I respected Buck in the clutch. He was that type of hitter. You had to pitch very carefully to him. A smart, highly intelligent ball player. Also a good manager and I admired him for that. A hustling ball player."

He was selected to seven Negro League All Star Games. In 1948, he was named as the manager of the Kansas City Monarchs.

He managed them until 1955, when he retired. Right after retiring from playing and managing, he decided to become a Chicago Cubs scout. He is credited for signing Hall of Famer Lou Brock, who stole 938 bases in his career. He is also credited for signing Hall of Fame shortstop Ernie Banks, who hit 512 career home runs.

“God's been good to me. They didn't think Buck was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. 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“

Buck O'Neil also made great contributions to Ken Burns 1994 "Baseball" Documentary. On it, Buck talked about the greats of the game.

At the Kansas City Royals' Kauffman Stadium, there is one red painted seat that is called the "Buck O'Neil Seat".

In March of 2006, he received a doctorate from Missouri Western State University. On October 24, 2007, O'Neil was posthumously given a Lifetime Achievement Award named after him. He had fallen short in the Hall of Fame vote in 2006; however he was honored in 2007 with a new award given by the Hall of Fame, to be named after him. A statue of O'Neil is to be placed inside the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

O'Neil died in 2006 on October 13 because of bone marrow and heart failure. "Buck was a pioneer, a legend and will be missed for as long as the game is played," commissioner Bud Selig said. "I had the good fortune of spending some time with him in Cooperstown a couple of months ago and I will miss his wisdom and counsel."

In his Negro League career, he had ten homers, 136 RBI and a .288 batting average.

You're a Hall of Famer to me, Buck.