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O'Neil, Buck

Buck O'Neil

1911–2006

Baseball player

John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil loved baseball, and immersed himself in the game from age 12 to 94. A standout Negro League player and two-time batting champion, O'Neil went on to become the first black manager of a major league team, a scout responsible for recruiting such Hall of Fame players as Lou Brock and Ernie Banks, and a tireless spokesman for the history of Negro League baseball. For all his efforts, O'Neil came to be considered an "architect" of the game, as Brock described him in the Columbia Daily Tribune. "He helped shape the game. But even greater, he shaped the character of young black men. He touched the heart of everyone who loved the game." He was "perhaps the greatest ambassador baseball has ever known," in the words of Jane Forbes Clark, chairperson of the Baseball Hall of Fame, as quoted in Sporting News.

Discovered Baseball at Early Age

John Jordan O'Neil was born on November 13, 1911, in Carrabelle, Florida. He was the second of three children born to John Sr., a sawmill worker, and Luella, a restaurant manager. The family moved to Sarasota in 1923. It was there that O'Neil received his first taste of professional baseball. As a 12-year-old, O'Neil began his semi-professional career as a member of the Sarasota Tigers and traveled throughout Florida. He took his nickname from Miami Giants semi-pro team co-owner Buck O'Neal. To support himself, he shined shoes and worked as a box boy. O'Neil related a pivotal moment in his life to Steve Wulf of Sports Illustrated, "I was considered a good box boy because, while most of the box boys could only carry two crates at a time, I was big and strong enough to carry four. I did that for about three years, at $1.25 a day. One day I was having lunch by myself next to a big stack of boxes, and it was so hot, I said out loud, 'Damn, there has got to be something better than this.'" That "something," O'Neil decided, was baseball.

Following completion of the eighth grade, O'Neil wanted to continue his education. Because of his skin color, however, he was not admitted to the high school in Sarasota. O'Neil was eventually able to obtain his high school diploma and earned a baseball and football scholarship to Edward Waters College in Jacksonville. He completed two years of college before leaving school to play baseball in 1934.

Played, Managed, Scouted in the Negro League

From 1934 to 1938 O'Neil played on various teams, including the Miami Giants, New York Tigers, and the Shreveport Acme Giants. In 1937 he signed with the Memphis Red Sox, earning $100 per month. That same year, he played for one month with the Zulu Cannibal Giants, a barnstorming team. The Giants, owned by Harlem Globetrotters founder Abe Saperstein, wore straw skirts instead of uniforms, but the team paid well and the players didn't have to wear war paint as some "African-themed" teams did. In 1938, after four years of moving from team to team, O'Neil earned a spot as the first baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the elite teams of the Negro Leagues.

From 1939 to 1942, Kansas City won four consecutive Negro American League pennants. O'Neil told Sports Illustrated about the glory years of the Monarchs: "We were like the New York Yankees. We had that winning tradition, and we were proud. We had a strict dress code—coat and tie, no baseball jackets. We stayed in the best hotels in the world. They just happened to be owned by black people. We ate in the best restaurants in the world. They just happened to be run by blacks. And when we were in Kansas City, well, 18th and Vine was the center of the universe. We'd come to breakfast at Street's Hotel, and there might be Count Basie or Joe Louis or Billie Holiday or Lionel Hampton."

In 1942, O'Neil led the Monarchs to a four-game sweep of the Homestead Grays in the Negro World Series, hitting .353. He won batting titles in 1940 and 1946, hitting .345 and .350 respectively. O'Neil was also named to the West team of the East-West All-Star Classic in 1942, 1943, and 1949 and was a member of Satchel Paige's All Stars. Paige's team, made up of Negro League stars, played a team of white major league players known as Bob Feller's All Stars in a 14-game barnstorming series in 1946. O'Neil remembered that the players who performed in those exhibitions had a mutual respect for the abilities of their opponents. The Negro League All Stars won the majority of the games played.

In 1944, with the United States deeply involved in World War II, O'Neil enlisted for a two-year stint with the U.S. Navy. He was stationed at Subic Bay in the Philippines and worked as a bosun loading and unloading ships. Although he was proud to serve his country, O'Neil regretted the fact that he was not a member of the Monarchs in 1945. That was the year that Jackie Robinson played in Kansas City before signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Following the end of World War II, O'Neil returned to the Monarchs in 1946. He won the batting title that year and also married Memphis schoolteacher Ora Lee Owen. In 1948, O'Neil was named player-manager of the Monarchs. He led Kansas City to league pennants in 1948, 1950, 1951, and 1953 and two Negro World Series titles. Alfred "Slick" Surratt, who played outfield for O'Neil, told Mark Goodman of People Weekly about O'Neil's managerial style: "He knew what it took to win a ball game, and he gave you confidence in yourself. After every game, when we got on the bus, he'd go over the game with us, whether we'd won or lost."

At a Glance …

Born John Jordan O'Neil, November 13, 1911, in Carrabelle, FL; died on October 6, 2006, in Kansas City, MO; son of John Sr. (a saw mill worker) and Luella (a restaurant owner); married Ora Lee Owen, 1946 (died). Education: Edward Waters College, Jacksonville, FL, high school diploma. Military service: U.S. Navy, 1944–45.

Career: First semi-professional baseball experience with the Sarasota Tigers, 1923; began professional career with the Miami Giants, 1934; New York Tigers, 1935; Shreveport Acme Giants, 1936; Memphis Red Sox, 1937; Kansas City Monarchs 1938–43, 1946–55; managed the Kansas City Monarchs, 1948–55; scout for the Chicago Cubs, 1956–88; first African American coach in Major League baseball, 1962; scout for the Kansas City Royals, 1989–2006.

Memberships: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, board of directors, chairman; Veterans' Committee of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Awards: Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, inductee, 1994; Baltimore Orioles, Sarasota, FL, training complex named in his honor, Buck O'Neil Baseball Complex, 1995.

O'Neil left the Monarchs in 1956 to become a scout for the Chicago Cubs. He traveled throughout the South searching for talented African American baseball players. He is credited with bringing formidable talents such as Ernie Banks, Lou Brock, Oscar Gamble, Lee Smith, and Joe Carter to the Cubs. In 1962, O'Neil made history by becoming the first African-American coach in the major leagues. Although he had broken through an important barrier, O'Neil eventually realized that the Cubs were not interested in making him a big-league manager and returned to scouting. He remained with the Cubs until 1988, capping a 33-year career with the organization. He returned to Kansas City the following year and joined the Kansas City Royals as a scout, which he would do until his death.

Championed Negro League History

In 1990, O'Neil began raising money for a museum to preserve and celebrate the history of the Negro Leagues. O'Neil was adamant about the need to preserve memories of the Negro Leagues: "It's very important that we know our history. We have to do that … this is not a sad story. It's a celebration!" he said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. His efforts led to the opening of the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. As a co-founder of the museum and one of the most articulate and engaging spokesman for the Negro Leagues, O'Neil began to appear regularly on radio and television programs. In 1994, he was featured prominently on Ken Burns' PBS documentary "Baseball." O'Neil was a key contributor to the segment entitled "Shadow Ball," which chronicled the greatness of the Negro Leagues, but also the pain of discrimination and exclusion from the major leagues. Burns, who won international acclaim for his 1990 documentary about the Civil War, told People Weekly's Goodman about O'Neil's contribution to the nine-part series: "He's the conscience of the program. Because of his dignity, his lack of bitterness and his sense of humor, Buck makes a wonderful ambassador for the game." Although the "Baseball" series was not as well-received as Burns' Civil War documentary, O'Neil's appearance made him a media celebrity.

In 1996, O'Neil published his autobiography I Was Right on Time: My Journey From the Negro Leagues to the Majors with Sports Illustrated editor Steve Wulf and David Conrads. In the late 1990s O'Neil remained active in the Royals organization, served as the chairman of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum Board of the Directors, and was a member of the Veterans' Committee of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. He worked as a spokesman to secure pensions for surviving Negro League players and to preserve the history of the Negro Leagues. He told Dave Kindred of The Sporting News that Negro League baseball was not the clowning, barnstorming jumble commonly portrayed in movies such as 'The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings: "Negro League baseball wasn't anything like that. It was like the white major leagues, serious baseball, well organized. There were 16 Negro League ball clubs, each with at least 15 players—the Monarchs had 18 players. There were all those people putting on the games, booking agents, traveling secretaries, trainers. Baseball was black entertainment and was important to black communities."

In February 2006, O'Neil was among the nominees to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he fell one vote short. His fans rallied and promised to make amends for what they perceived to be an error in judgment. Yet O'Neil took the news in stride. "Shed no tears for Buck," O'Neil announced to his fans after hearing the news, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He pointed to past sorrows caused by racial discrimination that kept him from gaining the education he wanted, admitting "That hurt." From his perspective, he explained "not going into the Hall of Fame, that ain't going to hurt me that much, no." O'Neil bore no grudge. He hosted the induction ceremony in Cooperstown with characteristic charm and grace. He then spent the summer continuing his promotion of baseball, traveling to functions in several states. In July, at age 94, O'Neil became the oldest man to play professional baseball when he stepped up to bat twice at the Northern League All-Star game. Shortly thereafter, O'Neil succumbed to fatigue, spending periods in the hospital. He never regained his strength; he died in Kansas City, Missouri, on October 6, 2006. Buck O'Neil will be remembered as one of the finest players in the Negro Leagues and a legend in the game of baseball. Through his willingness to share his memories of the Negro Leagues, fans everywhere have a greater understanding and deeper appreciation for a significant period in baseball history. To honor his legacy, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum began raising money to open the John "Buck" O'Neil Education and Research Center in Kansas City. He may yet be honored by the Hall of Fame, which had begun to reconsider O'Neil's exclusion from its halls after his death. Despite any posthumous honors, O'Neil's contributions to the game had already made him, as Major League Baseball columnist Mike Bauman called him: "a baseball immortal."

Selected writings

(With Steve Wulf and David Conrads) I Was Right on Time, Touchstone, 1996.

Sources

Books

Wheelock, Sean D. Buck O'Neil: Baseball Legend, Amereon, 1997.

Periodicals

Chicago Tribune, October 8, 2006, p. 3.

Columbia Daily Tribune, October 15, 2006.

New York Times, October 8, 2006, p. 41.

People Weekly, September 26, 1994.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 7, 2006, p. B3.

Sports Illustrated, September 19, 1994.

Sporting News, September 5, 1994; October 27, 2006, p. 60.

On-line

"O'Neil Bigger than Game Itself," Major League Baseball, http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/news/article_perspectives.jsp?ymd=20060929&content_id=1689281&vkey=perspectives&fext=.jsp (November 6, 2006).

Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, www.mosportshalloffame.com/boneil.htm (January 11, 2007).

Other

Burns, Ken, Baseball (television documentary), PBS, 1994.

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O'Neil, Buck

Buck O'Neil

John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil (1911–2006) loved baseball, and immersed himself in the game from age 12 to 94. A standout Negro League player and two-time batting champion, O'Neil went on to become the first black manager of a major league team.

As a scout, O'Neil was responsible for recruiting such Hall of Fame players as Lou Brock and Ernie Banks, and a tireless spokesman for the history of Negro League baseball. For all his efforts, O'Neil came to be considered an "architect" of the game, as Brock described him in the Columbia Daily Tribune. "He helped shape the game. But even greater, he shaped the character of young black men. He touched the heart of everyone who loved the game." He was "perhaps the greatest ambassador baseball has ever known," in the words of Jane Forbes Clark, chairperson of the Baseball Hall of Fame, as quoted in Sporting News.

Discovered Baseball at Early Age

John Jordan O'Neil was born on November 13, 1911, in Carrabelle, Florida. He was the second of three children born to John Sr., a sawmill worker, and Luella, a restaurant manager. The family moved to Sarasota in 1923. It was there that O'Neil received his first taste of professional baseball. As a 12-year-old, O'Neil began his semi-professional career as a member of the Sarasota Tigers and traveled throughout Florida. He took his nickname from Miami Giants semi-pro team co-owner Buck O'Neal. To support himself, he shined shoes and worked as a box boy. O'Neil related a pivotal moment in his life to Steve Wulf of Sports Illustrated, "I was considered a good box boy because, while most of the box boys could only carry two crates at a time, I was big and strong enough to carry four. I did that for about three years, at $1.25 a day. One day I was having lunch by myself next to a big stack of boxes, and it was so hot, I said out loud, 'Damn, there has got to be something better than this.'" That "something," O'Neil decided, was baseball.

Following completion of the eighth grade, O'Neil wanted to continue his education. Because of his skin color, however, he was not admitted to the high school in Sarasota. O'Neil was eventually able to obtain his high school diploma and earned a baseball and football scholarship to Edward Waters College in Jacksonville. He completed two years of college before leaving school to play baseball in 1934.

Played, Managed, Scouted in the Negro League

From 1934 to 1938 O'Neil played on various teams, including the Miami Giants, New York Tigers, and the Shreveport Acme Giants. In 1937 he signed with the Memphis Red Sox, earning $100 per month. That same year, he played for one month with the Zulu Cannibal Giants, a barnstorming team. The Giants, owned by Harlem Globetrotters founder Abe Saperstein, wore straw skirts instead of uniforms, but the team paid well and the players didn't have to wear war paint as some "African-themed" teams did. In 1938, after four years of moving from team to team, O'Neil earned a spot as the first baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the elite teams of the Negro Leagues.

From 1939 to 1942, Kansas City won four consecutive Negro American League pennants. O'Neil told Sports Illustrated about the glory years of the Monarchs: "We were like the New York Yankees. We had that winning tradition, and we were proud. We had a strict dress code—coat and tie, no baseball jackets. We stayed in the best hotels in the world. They just happened to be owned by black people. We ate in the best restaurants in the world. They just happened to be run by blacks. And when we were in Kansas City, well, 18th and Vine was the center of the universe. We'd come to breakfast at Street's Hotel, and there might be Count Basie or Joe Louis or Billie Holiday or Lionel Hampton."

In 1942, O'Neil led the Monarchs to a four-game sweep of the Homestead Grays in the Negro World Series, hitting .353. He won batting titles in 1940 and 1946, hitting .345 and .350 respectively. O'Neil was also named to the West team of the East-West All-Star Classic in 1942, 1943, and 1949 and was a member of Satchel Paige's All Stars. Paige's team, made up of Negro League stars, played a team of white major league players known as Bob Feller's All Stars in a 14-game barnstorming series in 1946. O'Neil remembered that the players who performed in those exhibitions had a mutual respect for the abilities of their opponents. The Negro League All Stars won the majority of the games played.

In 1944, with the United States deeply involved in World War II, O'Neil enlisted for a two-year stint with the U.S. Navy. He was stationed at Subic Bay in the Philippines and worked as a bosun loading and unloading ships. Although he was proud to serve his country, O'Neil regretted the fact that he was not a member of the Monarchs in 1945. That was the year that Jackie Robinson played in Kansas City before signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Following the end of World War II, O'Neil returned to the Monarchs in 1946. He won the batting title that year and also married Memphis schoolteacher Ora Lee Owen. In 1948, O'Neil was named player-manager of the Monarchs. He led Kansas City to league pennants in 1948, 1950, 1951, and 1953 and two Negro World Series titles. Alfred "Slick" Surratt, who played outfield for O'Neil, told Mark Goodman of People Weekly about O'Neil's managerial style: "He knew what it took to win a ball game, and he gave you confidence in yourself. After every game, when we got on the bus, he'd go over the game with us, whether we'd won or lost."

O'Neil left the Monarchs in 1956 to become a scout for the Chicago Cubs. He traveled throughout the South searching for talented African American baseball players. He is credited with bringing formidable talents such as Ernie Banks, Lou Brock, Oscar Gamble, Lee Smith, and Joe Carter to the Cubs. In 1962, O'Neil made history by becoming the first African-American coach in the major leagues. Although he had broken through an important barrier, O'Neil eventually realized that the Cubs were not interested in making him a big-league manager and returned to scouting. He remained with the Cubs until 1988, capping a 33-year career with the organization. He returned to Kansas City the following year and joined the Kansas City Royals as a scout, which he would do until his death.

Championed Negro League History

In 1990, O'Neil began raising money for a museum to preserve and celebrate the history of the Negro Leagues. O'Neil was adamant about the need to preserve memories of the Negro Leagues: "It's very important that we know our history. We have to do that … this is not a sad story. It's a celebration!" he said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. His efforts led to the opening of the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. As a co-founder of the museum and one of the most articulate and engaging spokesman for the Negro Leagues, O'Neil began to appear regularly on radio and television programs. In 1994, he was featured prominently on Ken Burns's PBS documentary "Baseball." O'Neil was a key contributor to the segment entitled "Shadow Ball," which chronicled the greatness of the Negro Leagues, but also the pain of discrimination and exclusion from the major leagues. Burns, who won international acclaim for his 1990 documentary about the Civil War, told People Weekly's Goodman about O'Neil's contribution to the nine-part series: "He's the conscience of the program. Because of his dignity, his lack of bitterness and his sense of humor, Buck makes a wonderful ambassador for the game." Although the "Baseball" series was not as well-received as Burns's Civil War documentary, O'Neil's appearance made him a media celebrity.

In 1996, O'Neil published his autobiography I Was Right on Time: My Journey From the Negro Leagues to the Majors with Sports Illustrated editor Steve Wulf and David Conrads. In the late 1990s O'Neil remained active in the Royals organization, served as the chairman of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum Board of the Directors, and was a member of the Veterans' Committee of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. He worked as a spokesman to secure pensions for surviving Negro League players and to preserve the history of the Negro Leagues. He told Dave Kindred of The Sporting News that Negro League baseball was not the clowning, barnstorming jumble commonly portrayed in movies such as The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings. "Negro League baseball wasn't anything like that. It was like the white major leagues, serious baseball, well organized. There were 16 Negro League ball clubs, each with at least 15 players—the Monarchs had 18 players. There were all those people putting on the games, booking agents, traveling secretaries, trainers. Baseball was black entertainment and was important to black communities."

In February 2006, O'Neil was among the nominees to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he fell one vote short. His fans rallied and promised to make amends for what they perceived to be an error in judgment. Yet O'Neil took the news in stride. "Shed no tears for Buck," O'Neil announced to his fans after hearing the news, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He pointed to past sorrows caused by racial discrimination that kept him from gaining the education he wanted, admitting "That hurt." From his perspective, he explained "not going into the Hall of Fame, that ain't going to hurt me that much, no." O'Neil bore no grudge. He hosted the induction ceremony in Cooperstown with characteristic charm and grace. He then spent the summer continuing his promotion of baseball, traveling to functions in several states. In July, at age 94, O'Neil became the oldest man to play professional baseball when he stepped up to bat twice at the Northern League All-Star game. Shortly thereafter, O'Neil succumbed to fatigue, spending periods in the hospital. He never regained his strength; he died in Kansas City, Missouri, on October 6, 2006. Buck O'Neil will be remembered as one of the finest players in the Negro Leagues and a legend in the game of baseball. Through his willingness to share his memories of the Negro Leagues, fans everywhere have a greater understanding and deeper appreciation for a significant period in baseball history. To honor his legacy, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum began raising money to open the John "Buck" O'Neil Education and Research Center in Kansas City. He may yet be honored by the Hall of Fame, which had begun to reconsider O'Neil's exclusion from its halls after his death. Despite any posthumous honors, O'Neil's contributions to the game had already made him, as Major League Baseball columnist Mike Bauman called him: "a baseball immortal."

Books

Wheelock, Sean D. Buck O'Neil: Baseball Legend, Amereon, 1997.

Periodicals

Chicago Tribune, October 8, 2006.

Columbia Daily Tribune, October 15, 2006.

New York Times, October 8, 2006.

People Weekly, September 26, 1994.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 7, 2006.

Sports Illustrated, September 19, 1994.

Sporting News, September 5, 1994; October 27, 2006.

Online

Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, www.mosportshalloffame.com/boneil.htm (January 11, 2007).

"O'Neil Bigger than Game Itself," Major League Baseball, http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/news/article_perspectives.jsp?ymd=20060929&content_id=1689281&vkey=perspectives&fext=.jsp (November 6, 2006).

Other

Burns, Ken, Baseball (television documentary), PBS, 1994.

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O’Neil, Buck 1911–

Buck ONeil 1911

Professional baseball player

Buck and the Monarchs

Joined the Cubs

Celebrity Status

Selected writings

Sources

John Jordan (Buck) ONeil, a former standout Negro League player and manager and one of baseballs greatest spokesmen, was born on November 13, 1911 in Carrabelle, Florida. He was the second of three children born to John Sr., a sawmill worker, and Luella, a restaurant manager. The family moved to Sarasota in 1923. It was there that ONeil received his first taste of professional baseball.

As a 12-year-old, ONeil began his semi-professional career as a member of the Sarasota Tigers and traveled throughout Florida. To support himself, he shined shoes and worked as a box boy. ONeil related a pivotal moment in his life to Steve Wulf of Sports Illustrated, I was considered a good box boy because, while most of the box boys could only carry two crates at a time, I was big and strong enough to carry four. I did that for about three years, at $1.25 a day. One day I was having lunch by myself next to a big stack of boxes, and it was so hot, I said out loud, Damn, there has got to be something better than this. That something, ONeil decided, was baseball.

Following completion of the eighth grade, ONeil wanted to continue his education. Because of his skin color, however, he was not admitted to the high school in Sarasota. ONeil was eventually able to obtain his high school diploma and earned a baseball and football scholarship to Edward Waters College in Jacksonville. He completed two years of college before leaving school to play baseball in 1934.

From 1934 to 1938 ONeil played on various teams, including the Miami Giants, New York Tigers, and the Shreveport Acme Giants. In 1937 he signed with the Memphis Red Sox, earning $100 per month. That same year, he played for one month with the Zulu Cannibal Giants, a barnstorming team. The Giants, owned by Harlem Globetrotters founder Abe Saperstein, wore straw skirts instead of uniforms, but the team paid well and the players did not have to wear war paint as some African-themed teams did. In 1938, after four years of moving from team to team, ONeil earned a spot as the first baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the elite teams of the Negro Leagues.

Buck and the Monarchs

From 1939 to 1942, Kansas City won four consecutive Negro American League pennants. ONeil told Sports Illustrated about the glory years of the Monarchs: We

At a Glance

Born John Jordan ONeil, November 13, 1911 in Carrabelle, FL; son of John Sr. (a saw mill worker) and Luella (a restaurant owner); married Ora Lee Owen, 1946. Education: attended Edward Waters College, Jacksonville, FL.

Career: First semi-professional baseball experience with the Sarasota Tigers, 1923; began professional career with the Miami Giants, 1934; New York Tigers, 1935; Shreveport Acme Giants, 1936; Memphis Red Sox, 1937; Kansas City Monarchs 1938-43, 1946-51; managed the Kansas City Monarchs, 1948-55; scout for the Chicago Cubs, 1956-88; first African American coach in Major League baseball, 1962; scout for the Kansas City Royals, 1989-.

Memberships: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum Board of Directors, chairman; Veterans Committee of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Awards: Negro League batting titles, 1940 and 1946; named to the West All Starteam of the Negro League EastWest Classic, 1942, 1943, and 1949; Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

Addresses: Residence Kansas City, Missouri; Mailing Kansas City Royals Baseball Club, PO Box 419962 Kansas City, Missouri 64141-6969.

were like the New York Yankees. We had that winning tradition, and we were proud. We had a strict dress codecoat and tie, no baseball jackets. We stayed in the best hotels in the world. They just happened to be owned by black people. We ate in the best restaurants in the world. They just happened to be run by blacks. And when we were in Kansas City, well, 18th and Vine was the center of the universe. Wed come to breakfast at Streets Hotel, and there might be Count Basie or Joe Louis or Billie Holiday or Lionel Hampton.

In 1942, ONeilled the Monarchs to a four-game sweep of the Homestead Grays in the Negro World Series, hitting .353. He won batting titles in 1940 and 1946, hitting .345 and .350 respectively. ONeil was also named to the West team of the East-West All-Star Classic in 1942, 1943, and 1949 and was a member of Satchel Paiges All Stars. Paiges team, made up of Negro League stars, played a team of white major league players known as Bob Fellers All Stars in a 14-game barnstorming series in 1946. ONeil remembered that the players who performed in those exhibitions had a mutual respect for the abilities of their opponents. The Negro League All Stars won the majority of the games played.

In 1944, with the United States deeply involved in World War II, ONeil enlisted for a two-year stint with the U.S. Navy. He was stationed at Subic Bay in the Philippines and worked as a bosun loading and unloading ships. Although he was proud to serve his country, ONeil regretted the fact that he was not a member of the Monarchs in 1945. That was the year that Jackie Robinson played in Kansas City before signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Following the end of World War II, ONeil returned to the Monarchs in 1946. He won the batting title that year and also married Memphis schoolteacher Ora Lee Owen. In 1948, ONeil was named player-manager of the Monarchs. He led Kansas City to league pennants in 1948, 1950, 1951, and 1953 and two Negro World Series titles. Alfred Slick Surratt, who played outfield for ONeil, told Mark Goodman of People Weekly about ONeils managerial style: He knew what it took to win a ball game, and he gave you confidence in yourself. After every game, when we got on the bus, hed go over the game with us, whether wed won or lost.

Joined the Cubs

ONeil left the Monarchs in 1956 to become a scout for the Chicago Cubs. He travelled throughout the South searching for talented African American baseball players. He is credited with bringing formidable talents such as Ernie Banks, Lou Brock, Oscar Gamble, Lee Smith, and Joe Carter to the Cubs. In 1962, ONeil made history by becoming the first African American coach in the major leagues. Although he had broken through an important barrier, ONeil eventually realized that the Cubs were not interested in making him a big-league manager and returned to scouting. He remained with the Cubs until 1988, capping a 33-year career with the organization. He returned to Kansas City the following year and joined the Kansas City Royals as a scout.

Celebrity Status

In 1990, ONeil began raising money for a museum to preserve and celebrate the history of the Negro Leagues. His efforts led to the opening of the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. As a co-founder of the museum and one of the most articulate and engaging spokesman for the Negro Leagues, ONeil began to appear regularly on radio and television programs. In 1994, he was featured prominently on Ken Burns PBS documentary Baseball. ONeil was a key contributor to the segment entitled Shadow Ball, which chronicled the greatness of the Negro Leagues, but also the pain of discrimination and exclusion from the major leagues. Burns, who won international acclaim for his 1990 documentary about the Civil War, told People Weekly s Goodman about ONeils contribution to the nine-part series: Hes the conscience of the program. Because of his dignity, his lack of bitterness and his sense of humor, Buck makes a wonderful ambassador for the game. Although the Baseball series was not as well-received as Burns Civil War documentary, ONeils appearance made him a media celebrity.

In 1996, ONeil published his autobiography I Was Right on Time: My Journey From the Negro Leagues to the Majors with Sports Illustrated editor Steve Wulf and David Conrads. In the late 1990s ONeil remained active in the Royals organization, served as the chairman of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum Board of the Directors, and was a member of the Veterans Committee of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooper-stown, New York. He worked as a spokesman to secure pensions for surviving Negro League players and to preserve the history of the Negro Leagues. He told Dave Kindred of The Sporting News that Negro League baseball was not the clowning, barnstorming jumble commonly portrayed in movies such as The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings: Negro League baseball wasnt anything like that. It was like the white major leagues, serious baseball, well organized. There were 16 Negro League ball clubs, each with at least 15 playersthe Monarchs had 18 players. There were all those people putting on the games, booking agents, traveling secretaries, trainers. Baseball was black entertainment and was important to black communities.

Buck ONeil will be remembered as one of the finest players in the Negro Leagues. Through his willingness to share his memories of the Negro Leagues, fans everywhere have a greater understanding and deeper appreciation for a significant period in baseball history.

Selected writings

I Was Right on Time, (with Steve Wulf and David Conrads), Touchstone, 1996.

Sources

Periodicals

People Weekly, September 26, 1994.

Sports Illustrated, September 19, 1994.

The Sporting News, September 5, 1994.

Other

Additional information obtained from the Major League Baseball website at http://www.majorleaguebaseball.com/nbl/nl19.sm; Missouri Sports Hall of Fame website at http://www.mosportshalloffame.com/boneil.htm; and the Negro Leagues website at http://www.nc5.infi.net/~moxie/nlb/players/oneil.htm.

Mike Watkins

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O'Neil, Buck

Buck O'Neil

1911-

American baseball player

The gentlemanly and charismatic John "Buck" O'Neil became, in 1962, the first black baseball coach hired by a major league team. In the Negro Leagues during the 1940s and 1950s, he played on nine championship teams and in two Negro League World Series, managed five East-West All-Star Classics, and won a Negro National League batting title. Always an ambassador for the game and its black heritage, he enjoyed a resurgent interest in his story since the airing of Ken Burns' Baseball documentary series, for which O'Neil served as narrator. To preserve the legacy of black baseball, O'Neil co-founded the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, and currently serves as its chairman.

Dreaming Big

Growing up in the celery fields of Florida, John Jordan O'Neil, Jr. dreamed big. His father, a saw mill worker, played for local baseball teams and soon, young

John took a liking to the game. He first played semi-professional baseball in 1923 with the Sarasota Tigers.

Although he was not allowed to attend Sarasota High School because he was black, he eventually obtained a high school diploma. Later, he earned a baseball and football scholarship to Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida. In 1934, he toured professionally with the Miami Giants, who named him Buck after one of the team's owners, Buck O'Neal.

O'Neil flitted between several teams in his early career, playing for the New York Tigers, Shreveport Acme Giants, Memphis Red Sox, and the barnstorming team Zulu Cannibal Giants between 1934 and 1937. The Negro American League's Memphis Red Sox signed him after seeing him play in Shreveport and paid him $100 a month.

In 1938, O'Neil finally rested with the Kansas City Monarchs, an elite team of the Negro Leagues, with whom he would stay as player and manager until 1955. O'Neil began with the Monarchs as a first baseman and became a consistent hitter with good extra-base power. The Monarchs won four consecutive Negro American League (NAL) pennants from 1939-42, and won against the Homestead Grays in the first World Series played between the NAL and the Negro National League. O'Neil made three appearances for the West squad in the East-West All-Star Classic in 1942, 1943, and 1949.

O'Neil took a two-year absence from baseball in 1943 to fight in World War II. Trained for the US Navy, he was shipped out to Subic Bay in the Philippines to work loading ships.

Returning to the Monarchs and to his superb performance as a first baseman and hitter, O'Neil led the 1946 NAL with a batting average of .353, leading his team to another pennant. He scored two home runs and a .333 average in the Black World Series against the Newark Eagles. That same year he married Memphis school teacher Ora Lee Owen.

In addition to the Monarchs, O'Neil played in winter leagues and on barnstorming teams throughout his career. He teamed with the legendary Satchel Paige to tour with Bob Feller's All-Stars, playing numerous exhibition games in the late 1940s. He played winter ball with Almendares in the Cuban League and with Obregon in the Mexican winter league. Overall in his career, O'Neil had a career batting average of .288 including four .300-plus seasons.

O'Neil as Manager, Scout, and First Black Coach

In 1948, O'Neil was named manager of the Monarchs, experiencing mixed success at first. With divisional play in 1949, he led the Monarchs to the first-half title in the Western Division. Finally in 1950, the Monarchs won both halves of the Western Division. Between 1948 and 1955, O'Neil managed to propel the Monarchs to five pennants, two Black World Series, and four straight All-Star wins.

The Chicago Cubs noticed O'Neil and signed him as a scout in 1956. During his stint with the Monarchs, O'Neil brought more than three dozen baseball players to the Major Leagues. As a scout, he recognized talent and recommended the signing of greats Ernie Banks , a Monarchs slugger, and Lou Brock to their first professional contracts. Also on his roster were Joe Carter, Oscar Gamble, Elston Howard, Lee Smith, and Hank Thompson.

O'Neil made history in 1962 when the first major league team, the Cubs, hired an Africa-American as its coach. Eventually O'Neil realized the Cubs did not want to make him a big-league manager, so he returned to scouting. He stayed with the Cubs for thirty-three years, leaving in 1988 to return to Missouri to scout for the Kansas City Royals.

Remembering the Negro Leagues

Buck O'Neil became a member of the 18-person Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee of Cooperstown, New York, in 1981. With the intense desire to preserve the memory of the Negro Leagues, he raised money and co-founded the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City in 1990. For more than a decade, he has lectured about the history and accomplishments of the Negro Leagues around the country, at schools, at conferences, on radio programs, and on television.

O'Neil experienced a resurgence of popularity in 1994 with the release of Ken Burn's PBS documentary Baseball. O'Neil narrated the program's segment highlighting the Negro Leagues. After the show's airing, he appeared on national interviews and late night talk shows such as Late Night with David Letterman.

Bringing his memories and words to a new generation, the new celebrity published his autobiography in 1996, I Was Right on Time: My Journey from the Negro Leagues to the Majors, co-written with Sports Illustrated editors Steve Wulf and David Conrads. O'Neil continues to recommend Negro League players to the Baseball Hall of Fame and advocates pensions for surviving Negro League players.

Chronology

1911 Born November 13 in Carrabelle, Florida
1923 Semi-professional with Sarasota Tigers
1930 Graduates from Edward Waters College
1934 Plays for Miami Giants
1935 Plays for New York Tigers
1936 Plays for Shreveport Acme Giants
1937 Plays for Memphis Red Sox
1937 Plays for Zulu Cannibal Giants
1938-43, 1946-55 Plays for Kansas City Monarchs
1943-45 Military service during Wold War II
1946 Marries Ora Lee Owen
1994 Narrator in Ken Burns' PBS documentary Baseball
1996 Publishes memoirs, I Was Right on Time

Awards and Accomplishments

1938 Started with Kansas City Monarchs
1939-42 Monarchs won four consecutive Negro American League pennants
1940 Won Negro League batting title with a .345 average
1942 Appearance in the West All-Star game
1942 First World Series played between the Negro American League and the Negro National League
1946 Led Negro National League with a .353 batting average
1947 Career best batting average of .358
1948-55 Named manager of Kansas City Monarchs
1950 Monarchs won the Western Divsion Championships
1951-54 Managed East-West all-star teams
1956 Signed with the Chicago Cubs as a scout
1962 First black coach hired by a major league
1981 Joined Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee
1988 Became scout for Kansas City Royals
1990 Co-founded Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City
1996 Received honorary degree from University of Missouri-Kansas City Bloch School of Business
1998 Named Midwest Scout of the Year
1999 Kansas State College Lifetime Leadership Award

The long-time Kansas City resident holds no resentment or bitterness about the past segregation and racism he encountered. O'Neil's ability to forgive is reflected in his warm smile and sense of humor. His intention is that the Negro League museum he co-founded be more about hope and progress than about inequality. An audio program, The Best of Buck, compiles twenty-three stories of baseball history in the Negro Leagues told by Buck O'Neil; proceeds go to museum.

At the age of eighty-nine, O'Neil said in an interview in Home and Away magazine, "I want the young people to know the wonderful changes that's happened in this country. I'm old enough to see these wonderful changes This is what we're trying to doteach every kid about the Negro Leagues and that era."

Career Statistics

Yr Team Avg GP AB H 2B 3B HRS B
KC: Kansas City Monarchs; MEM: Memphis Red Sox.
1937 MEM .091 3 11 1 0 0 0 0
1938 KC .258 27 89 23 5 2 1 7
1939 KC .257 30 101 26 7 2 2 3
1940 KC .345 30 113 39 5 3 1 6
1941 KC .239 23 88 21 3 2 0 3
1942 KC .247 182 45 6 1 1 0
1943 KC .222 99 22 1 1 2 1
1946 KC .350 58 197 69 1 1 2 1
1947 KC .358 46 162 58
1948 KC .253 42 162 41 6 1 1 3
1949 KC .330 45 109 36
1950 KC .253 31 83 21 5 2 1 5
TOTAL .288 335 1396 402 39 15 11 29

SELECTED WRITINGS BY O'NEIL:

(With Steve Wulf, and David Conrads) I Was Right on Time: My Journey from the Negro Leagues to the Majors, Touchstone, 1996.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

Dewey, Donald. The Biographical History of Baseball. New York: Carroll and Graf Publishing, 1995.

Riley, James A. The Biographical Encyclopedia of Negro Baseball Leagues. New York: Carroll and Graf Publishing, 1994.

Shatzkin, Mike. The Ballplayers. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1990.

Other

African American Publications. Gale Group. http://www.africanpubs.com/Apps/bio/0076ONeilBuck.asp (January 24, 2003).

Baseball Library. http://www.pubdim.net/baseballlibrary/excerpts/buck_oneil.stm (January 24, 2003).

Home and Away Magazine. "Local Legend Buck O'Neil." http://www.homeandawaymagazine.com/webstories_buck_oneil.html (January 24, 2003).

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. http://www.nlbm.com/oneil.bio.html (January 24, 2003).

Pitch Black Negro League. http://www.pitchblackbaseball.com/nlotmbuckoneil.html (January 24, 2003).

Sketch by Lorraine Savage

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O'Neil, Buck

Buck O'Neil (John Jordan O'Neil), 1911–2006, African-American baseball player and coach, b. Carrabelle, Fla. One of the stars of the Negro leagues, he began playing semipro baseball at 12, and his career came to span seven decades. An outstanding clutch hitter and skilled first baseman, O'Neil led the league in batting in 1940 and again in 1946 after serving inthe Navy. After retiring as a player, he managed the Monarchs from 1948 to 1955 and led them to five pennants and two Black World Series. More than 20 players he managed, including Ernie Banks and Elston Howard, became major leaguers when baseball finally integrated. In 1953 O'Neil was hired by the Chicago Cubs as a scout, and in 1962 he became the first African-American major-league coach. The founding chairman (1997–2006) of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

See his autobiography, I Was Right on Time (1997); biography by S. D. Wheelock (1997).

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