© 2022 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Kansas City baseball legend Buck O'Neil has one more chance at the Hall of Fame

Greg Echlin
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick poses in front of an image of Buck O'Neil in 2020 at the Paseo YMCA where the Negro Leagues were founded in 1920.

O'Neil was not among 17 Negro Leagues greats who were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. A vote on Sunday could finally correct that omission.

In 2006, when a special committee of historians, researchers and educators elected 17 Negro Leagues legends to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Kansas City’s renowned Buck O’Neil wasn’t among them.

Later that year, he died at the age of 94.

Now, 15 years after that omission, O’Neil has another shot at baseball’s shrine in Cooperstown, New York. He’s one of 10 pre-1950 players, seven from the Negro Leagues — which were founded at Kansas City’s Paseo YMCA in 1920 — and pre-Negro Leagues who are up for consideration on Sunday. In all likelihood, it will be their final chance.

John Donaldson, who grew up in Glasgow, Missouri, is also among the group under consideration by the Early Baseball Era Committee, which was formed in 2016.

Back in 2006, O’Neil was one of 39 names under consideration by a separate 12-person committee whose specific purpose was to address the figures from the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues. That committee was disbanded after ‘06.

“It’s almost poetic justice after all he’s done to help others that finally he would get his just due in terms of getting his recognition,” Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick said of O’Neil on the day before the 2006 announcement, anticipating O’Neil would be included.

O’Neil had every right to be disappointed when he wasn’t. But he didn’t show it.

“I’m real happy because they put that many in,” he said of the 17 who were inducted.

Greg Echlin
Visitors at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, in 2010.

O’Neil spent the last 16 years of his life serving as chairman of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Kendrick called O’Neil the museum’s power hitter.

“I reminded people it’s going to be hard to lose your power hitter and think that your offense is going to be as potent as it was when he was in the middle of that lineup, but we’ve continued to find ways to manufacture runs and I think Buck would be proud of that,” Kendrick said in October, after a news conference at the museum to promote baseball memories.

Consider O’Neil’s longevity in the game: It started professionally in 1937 when he was a first baseman in the Negro Leagues, mostly with the Kansas City Monarchs, then as a Monarchs player/manager. Later, with the Chicago Cubs, he was the first African-American to be named a major league coach. Finally, and most of all, he was an ambassador for the game and for keeping alive the spirit of those who played in the Negro Leagues.

That poetic justice that Kendrick spoke of 15 years ago might happen with Sunday's vote by the Early Baseball Era Committee. Any candidate receiving votes on at least 75% of the ballots (or from 12 of the 16 members) will be a part of the Hall of Fame Class of 2022 next July.

Though he was humble, it’s easy to imagine how much prouder O’Neil would be to join the other Negro Leaguers already enshrined in Cooperstown.

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make nonprofit journalism available for everyone.