Buck O’Neil, Kansas Baseball Hero: What You Probably Didn’t Know

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Buck O’Neil didn’t have the most memorable playing days but he left an indelible mark in the game. He missed two years as he served in World War II. Two years later, he became the manager of his team. 

His popularity grew after he left the game as a speaker and for having featured in a documentary and his book, ‘I was Right On Time’. He received numerous honors for his contributions to baseball. Here’s more about him.

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Buck O’Neil’s Background

spotcovery-Buck O’Neil, Kansas Baseball Hero: What You Probably Didn't Know
Buck O’Neil in a Kansas City Monarchs Uniform. Source: Wikimedia licensed by Public domain

Buck O’Neil was born in Florida where he grew up. He faced racial discrimination from an early age and had limited access to education. Nonetheless, he joined Edwards Water College where he graduated with a high school diploma, having also done some college courses. 

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Baseball Career

Buck O’Neil talking about Jackie Robinson. Video Credit: Letterman

Afterwards, he left his hometown to pursue his baseball dreams, a game he started playing at the age of 12. He played in interracial exhibition games and later joined the Memphis Red Sox during their first year in the Negro American League and later joined the Monarchs.

His baseball statistics weren’t that bad, having led with a batting average of .353 in 1946 and later, hit the .350 in 16 games. Additionally, he featured in the baseball All-Star games and Negro World Series.

In 1944 and 1945, the first baseman joined the U.S. Navy during World War II. Upon his return, O’Neal took over the Monarchs as coach while playing. Later on, he became a part-time player to focus on his managerial career. He won two league titles in 1953 and 1955.

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Retirement

After a successful season in 1955, the owner of the Monarchs sold the team and Buck O’Neil left for the Chicago Cubs. Although he was praised for signing Lou Brock, he didn’t bring in Ernie Banks. 

In 1962, he became the first black coach in the major leagues. However, his role was limited as he wasn’t allowed to take charge of a game and was listed in the coach’s system. In 1988, he joined the Kansas City Royals as the team’s scout.

In 1994, Buck O’Neil’s involvement with the PBS Documentary cast him into the national limelight and later on appeared in numerous interviews. The former baseballer established the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and was its chairman. For his work in the game, Neil received several honors:

  • Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • Beacon of Life Award
  • Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Baseball Hall of Fame

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Buck O’Neil didn’t have the most unforgettable career but his work after his playing days earned him respect and a place in baseball’s history. 

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