If you ask most people in the Kansas City area for one person who stands out when thinking about black history, they would most likely tell you the late Buck O’Neil. Buck represents many things to many people in the Kansas City area, but perhaps the most important thing he represents is what he did not only for the black population of this city but also for what he did for baseball.
Buck O’Neil was born in 1911 in Carrabelle, Florida, a grandson of a slave, where he was baptized into baseball when he was very young, by his dad; who had played baseball with some local Florida teams. Because Buck was black, he wasn’t allowed to attend high school in Sarasota, as the school was an all-white school. Still, Buck had a passion and a love for the sport of baseball from the time he was small, so much passion and so much talent, that he was good enough to turn pro.
Unfortunately, in the 1930’s segregation of blacks and whites was everyday practice and Buck was not allowed to play baseball for any professional white teams. This didn’t deter Buck, and in 1937 he signed with the Memphis Red Sox to play in the newly formed Negro American League. In 1938 the Red Sox sold his baseball contract to the Monarchs, which brought him to Kansas City, where he lived until his death in 2006.
Buck O’Neil had a great career with the Negro League in Kansas City; his batting average over the span of his career was .288, with four seasons at over .300. He also batted .353 in 1946 and in 1947 he had his career best batting average of .358. During his baseball career Buck played in four East-West All-Star Games and showed off his skills by playing in two Negro League World Series.
Buck O’Neil was surely a great player on the field, but he was also full of firsts for black people in baseball. In 1962, Buck O’Neil was named the first black major league coach when the Chicago Cubs hired him to just that: coach their team. He also is credited with giving other black ball players a chance to play the game without being segregated from their white peers when he helped sign Ernie Banks and Lou Brock to play America’s favorite pastime. Buck O’Neil eventually became a scout for the Kansas City Royals. His love of baseball shined through in everything he did.
What was more remarkable about Buck O’Neil was that he never let anyone forget about the Negro League baseball teams. He narrated a very moving special about this league for a PBS documentary about baseball. He was the board chairman for Kansas City’s Negro League Baseball Museum, and he campaigned tirelessly for former Negro League players to be inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Because of Buck O’Neil, people all over this country have learned about the history of Negro League baseball. He traveled and promoted the Negro League Baseball Museum so that he could promote the players of that sport and that time. Buck refused to let the players- so many talented and wonderful black baseball players of yesteryear be forgotten.
Buck O’Neil died in October 2006, he was 94 years old. What did Buck O’Neil do for Kansas City in terms of black history? He lived it. And he made sure that no one here in this city would ever forget. Thank you, Buck!