Negro Leagues, Kansas City legend Buck O’Neil elected to Baseball Hall of Fame
WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Buck O’Neil, who played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues, was a pioneer in Major League Baseball, and served as one of the game’s most recognizable ambassadors later in life, was elected Sunday to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
O’Neil, who died in 2006 at age 94, was elected by the 16-person Early Baseball Committee along with 19th century player Bud Fowler. O’Neil needed 12 votes from the committee and received 13. He will be posthumously inducted in July 2022.
O’Neil debuted in the Negro American League in 1937 for Memphis and in 1938 joined the Monarchs, with whom he would remain as a player and coach until 1955.
O’Neil had a modest career in the Negro Leagues after making his debut in 1937, but won a batting title in 1946 with a .353 average. That accomplishment came shortly after O’Neil’s served in the Navy during World War II. With the Monarchs, O’Neil famously developed a friendship with Negro Leagues legend Satchel Paige, who lovingly referred to O’Neil as “Nancy.”
O’Neil said the origin of “Nancy” came from one of Paige’s extramarital adventures.
“After about an hour, Satchel’s door opens, and I say, ‘Uh huh, it’s going down right now.’ Satchel goes to Nancy’s door and knocks lightly. He whispers, ‘Nancy.’ No one answers,” O’Neil told NBC Sports in 2015.
“He knocks a little louder – ‘Nancy!’ No one answers.
“He knocks loud now. ‘NANCY!’
“When he yelled that, Satchel’s door opened. I know that has to be (fiancée) Lahoma, so I jump out of bed and open my door and say, ‘Satchel, are you looking for me?’
“And without missing a beat he says: ‘Yes, Nancy, what time is the game tomorrow?’
“And I’ve been Nancy ever since.”
After his playing career, O’Neil remained attached to baseball. He was a scout for the Chicago Cubs, signing multiple Hall of Fame players, then the first black coach in the major leagues when the Cubs hired him in 1962.
In 1994, he was one of the stars of Ken Burns’ “Baseball” documentary, regaling viewers with stories from his time playing Black baseball before and after Jackie Robinson broke the MLB color barrier in 1947.
From then until his death, O’Neil was a media star, celebrated and interviewed often for his tales about Page and other Negro Leagues stars whose life accounts were scarce but lived on through O’Neil.
The Royals have honored O’Neil with the Buck O’Neil Legacy seat, in which someone who has made a profound impact on the community gets a spot close to the field at Kauffman Stadium. O’Neil was chairman of the board of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, for which he was a driving force leading to its opening in 1990.
O’Neil missed being elected to the Hall of Fame shortly before his death. In 2006, the Hall examined the contributions of several Negro Leagues figures, and 17 were elected by the Committee on African-American Baseball. O’Neill, considered a strong favorite to earn election, was not among them, falling one vote short.
He died a few months later.
O’Neil’s autobiography was called “I Was Right On Time,” a phrase he used to dismiss disappointment from the opportunities he didn’t receive as a Black baseball player before the game was integrated.
President Barack Obama awarded O’Neil the Presidential Medal of Freedom two months after his death in 2006.
Ever since they made their decision (to not vote me into the Baseball Hall of Fame), people keep callin’ and asking me about it,” O’Neil told Esquire magazine in 2006. “But I can’t complain. I’m having a wonderful life.”
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