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Kansas City baseball legend Buck O’Neil finally inducted into the Hall of Fame

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Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
/
KCUR 89.3
O'Neil fans, including Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick and Mayor Quinton Lucas, cheer to Buck O'Neil's election to Hall of Fame.

O’Neil was one of two Negro Leaguers in the Early Baseball Era elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday, an election that many say was long overdue. 

Buck O'Neil has finally been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 2006, O’Neil was not among the 17 people from the Negro Leagues elected to the Hall of Fame, and he passed away later in the year. 15 years afterwards, the omission was corrected by the Early Baseball Era Committee. O’Neil received 13 votes from the 16-member panel.

O’Neil was one of baseball’s best ambassadors. He spoke of his love for the game in Ken Burns’s 1994 television documentary “Baseball” and later served as chairman of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City

At a watch party Sunday at the Negro Leagues museum, museum President Bob Kendrick said that before results were announced for the Class of 2022 inductees, he was nervous.

“You don't know how votes are ever going to come out. I learned that in 2006, because in 2006, I wasn't prepared because I didn't think there was any way that Buck wouldn't get in,” said Kendrick.

Kendrick was thrilled when the Hall of Fame announced O’Neil’s inclusion in the class of 2022.

“I wish every child in America could meet Buck O’Neil because we fell in love with Buck O’Neil and we really didn't see him play,” said Kendrick.

“We fell in love with the Buck O’Neil who told us about the heroes of the Negro Leagues. And we fell in love with the Buck O’Neil who so beautifully and vividly demonstrated to all of us that you could get further in his life with love than you could with hate.”

Mayor Quinton Lucas was at the Negro Leagues museum watch party. He said he has fond memories of seeing O’Neil in the 18th and Vine district and hearing O’Neil’s name announced was like winning a championship.

“We all are standing in a temple of what his dream was,” said Lucas, referring to the Negro Leagues museum. “And to get this recognition from baseball is a sign of the great impact he had on the Monarchs and the Cubs. I am so proud to be the mayor of a city where Buck O'Neil is getting recognized, and I know a bunch of us are going to plan to go up to Cooperstown to see this celebration as if Buck just retired yesterday.”

O’Neil began his professional baseball career in 1937, as a first baseman in the Negro Leagues, mostly for the Kansas City Monarchs, where he later became a player and manager. In 1962 with the Chicago Cubs, O’Neil was named the first African American to coach in the major leagues.

By all reports, when he learned he did not make the Hall of Fame in 2006, O’Neil did not show signs of disappointment. Instead, he uplifted the other Negro League players inducted that year.

Joe Carter, a former major league baseball player who lives in the Kansas City area, said that if O’Neil had heard the announcement of his induction, he would have been just as humble as he was in 2006.

“He would have looked around and he would’ve told Kansas City, ‘Hey, we did it,’ said Carter. “Not just him, but he would have said we, because that's the way Buck was. He was never about himself, it was always about others. And that is what I love the most about him.”

Missouri native John Donaldson was also under consideration by the Early Era Baseball Committee but did not receive enough votes. Over his more than three decade career, Donaldson played on multiple pre-Negro League and Negro League teams, including the Monarchs.

The Hall of Fame’s class of 2022 will be inducted in a ceremony in Cooperstown, New York, on July 24.

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga is a freelance reporter for KCUR 89.3.
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