As I have written in the past, the Negro Leagues are one of the great, and too frequently untold, stories of modern American History. The League didn’t just change baseball, but shaped the country itself.
The Negro Leagues had some wonderful stars from Rube Foster to Josh Gibson to Satchel Paige to Buck O’Neil. You can see them all at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City (which I have written about in the past http://myespnforkids.com/?p=525) including their moving Field of Legends.
As Ken Burns’ wonderful film on baseball brought to life, Buck O’Neil was a standout first baseman and manager for the Kansas City Monarchs. He would go on to be a Major League (MLB) scout helping “discover” both Lou Brock and Ernie Banks. O’Neil would later become the first black coach in the MLB. Then, late in life, Buck would spend his time as what former Senator Al Simpson rightly called an amazing ambassador for both the Negro Leagues and the NLB museum (NLBM) that he helped found. At every stage of life, he was quick with a story and smile.
In 2006, a special 12-person committee was created to include Negro League baseball players and managers in Cooperstown. As author and sports columnist Joe Posnaski and others have written, Buck was considered a lock. Unfortunately, as word emerged from the deliberations, fans were disappointed to learn that he fell one vote shy.
Hundreds of people were gathered at the NLB museum for what they assumed would be a great celebration. It was not to be. However, as I learned in my research for National History Day last year, there was no bitterness or disappointment from Buck. As Kansas City businessman Jim Nutter recalled, he was all smiles and even consoling others. News accounts would recall Buck saying, “Shed no tears for Buck.” It was a true testament to the man.
On Thursday, the state of Missouri dedicated and renamed the Broadway Bridge that runs right into the heart of downtown Kansas City as the Buck O’Neil Bridge. The dedication was timed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of his death.
At the NLBM gathering where Buck learned he had not made the Hall, he said, “Just keep loving old Buck.” The FL native became one of Kansas City’s favorite sons. This latest tribute is another example of his powerful impact on the city and on the game of baseball. We just keep loving old Buck.