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Kansas City Remembers Negro Leagues' Buck O'Neil With A Streetcar Tribute

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
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Visitors to the tribute for Buck O'Neil's 109th birthday and the Negro League's 100th anniversary walk past the Monarchs-themed streetcar unveiled at Union Station prior to the ceremony.

From an O’Neil-inspired streetcar to a conversation with those who know his story best, Kansas City “tipped their hat” to the local legend on his 109th birthday.

Fans across the metro teamed up on Friday to celebrate what would have been Buck O’Neil’s 109th birthday and the centennial anniversary of the Negro Leagues in Kansas City.

O’Neil played for and managed the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues before going on to become one of the first Black scouts for Major League Baseball. He also led the effort to create the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, where he served as honorary chairman until he passed in 2006.

Bob Kendrick, the museum’s president, says the support seen across the city proves the impact of O’Neil’s legacy.

“I mean no disrespect to anyone who had anything to do with the formation and ultimate growth of this museum, but it did not happen without Buck O’Neil,” said Kendrick. “In New York, it was the house that Ruth built, Yankee Stadium. Here in Kansas City, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is the house that Buck built.”

RideKC remembered O’Neil with the unveiling of a streetcar inspired by the Kansas City Monarchs. The streetcar was inspired by the Monarchs’ logo and features a heart with the initials "KC" inside.

Along with the streetcar, the program also rolled out a Negro Leagues Baseball inspired bus and set of bicycles.

Robbie Makinen, president of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, also highlighted RideKC’s by acknowledging its almost 40,000 free rides a day since making public transportation free earlier this year.

“In a time where people are losing their home, losing their houses, losing their cars, it's about access. It's about access to opportunity, and isn’t that what Buck O’Neil was about? Isn’t that what the Negro Leagues are about?” said Makinen.

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, poses for photographers Friday near the Buck O'Neil-themed streetcar stop on Main Street prior to the Wrapped with Heart tribute.

The celebration also included a livestream conversation the connecting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and several prominent sports figures who knew O'Neil including Kendrick, former Kansas City Star sports columnist Joe Posnanski and sports broadcaster Bob Costas.

Also in attendance was award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns, who in 1994 included O’Neil in his documentary “Baseball” that brought the Negro League’s story to a national level.

“There were lots of other people contributing by the dozens, but I think if you left the series after 18-and-a-half hours, you couldn't help but feel that its beating heart was Buck. And, I think that's why we're all here together,” said Burns.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas also declared Friday as the first annual Buck O'Neil Day.

“Kansas City is made up by our amazing history and amazing culture and I am so lucky to live in a city and by a museum that Buck had such an incredible impact on,” said Lucas.

Lucas said he hoped that the museum would continue to be a place for people to come to, even during the pandemic, to hear stories that show how Buck and others persevered for better times.

The Negro League Baseball Museum also announced that the Kansas City Royals Charities donated $100,000 in honor of O’Neil's influence on the sport.

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