Buck O’Neil

oneil1November 13, 1911 – October 6, 2006

In lieu of writing something new about Buck O’Neil, I decided I will just re-post the tribute I wrote about him on an old blog the day after he died:

There is a man. Revered in some circles. Beloved in others. Unknown in most. To those who did know him, he was simply known as “Buck.”

John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil died yesterday at the age of 94. This is a sad day for the city of Kansas City. And, it is a sad day for the sport he loved and came to embody: baseball.

Buck’s career in baseball spanned 7 decades. He was a player, a coach, a scout and an ambassador. He began playing in Memphis in the newly formed Negro American League 1937. A year later, he was traded to the Kansas City Monarchs where he would stay (serving as first baseman and – eventually – manager) until 1955. After his stint in KC, he went on to become a scout for the Chicago Cubs. A position that led in 1962 to him being named a coach…the first Black coach in the major leagues.

In 1988, he returned to Kansas City as a scout for the Royals. Shortly thereafter, he helped lead the charge to create a museum dedicated solely to the players and teams that made up the Negro Leagues. The museum opened in 1990 and found its new home in Kansas City’s historic 18th & Vine district in 1994. Buck continued to work as honorary chairman until his death.

Most recently, (this summer in fact) Buck played in the Northern League All-Star game as a member of the Kansas City T-Bones minor league team. He was intentionally walked.

Throughout his life and career, Buck has arguably been the most vocal advocate of the preservation of the historic Negro Leagues. His book, I Was Right On Time, chronicles his days in the game amidst his fellow players trying to break into the white-only majors. He served on the Hall of Fame veteran’s committee for 19 years where he had a hand in electing 8 Negro Leagues players to the Hall. O’Neil himself was nominated a few years ago but has yet to be inducted (update).

On a personal level, I had the honor of meeting and talking with him on several occasions. He was “MISTER Kansas City.” You would run into him at stores, restaurants and always ALWAYS out at the ballpark. Known in KC for all I have mentioned above, it was his stories that made him beloved. He was absolutely LEGENDARY for his storytelling. He could tell stories for hours and never lose an ounce of enthusiasm for the game he loved. Stories of playing with greats like Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson. Stories of segregation. Stories of triumph of human spirit. He was quite simply one of the more amazing human beings I have ever had the pleasure to run across.

He WAS baseball. In its truest and purest form.

He was up for nomination to the Baseball Hall of Fame recently. He fell short by one vote. And, though he put up solid career numbers, it is possible that he may not have had the whole package needed to earn him a ticket to Cooperstown. I would argue that his work off the field should tell us otherwise. He’ll make it in…but, it would have been something special for him to actually be there for the induction.

Either way, Buck himself had this to say in his Hall of Fame key note speech earlier this year:

“God’s been good to me. They didn’t think Buck was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. That’s the way they thought about it and that’s the way it is, so we’re going to live with that. Now, if I’m a Hall of Famer for you, that’s all right with me. Just keep loving old Buck. Don’t weep for Buck. No, man, be happy, be thankful.”

Ok, Buck. I can do that. Thank you.

You will be missed.

-October 07, 2006


Forest Hill Cemetery – Kansas City, MO

Specific Location

Across the lawn section directly to the east of the main office there is a small block of above ground crypts, Buck’s lawn grave is about 50 feet north of these crypts, 2 rows to the west of the sidewalk. Incidentally, there is also a separate memorial to Buck just to the north of the office.



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