Who Is John Jordan O'Neil?
January 31, 2013
John Jordan "Buck" O’Neil was born in Carrabelle Florida in 1911. He was denied the opportunity to go to high school there because Florida had only four high schools specifically for African Americans. He went to live with relatives in Jacksonville, attended high school there, and took two years of college classes at Edward Waters College.
Starting in 1934, he played baseball for the Miami Giants. He went on to play for the New York Tigers and the Shreveport Acme Giants. In 1937, he signed with the Memphis Red Sox of the newly formed Negro American League. In 1938, he earned a spot as the first baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs.
From 1939 to 1942, Kansas City won four consecutive Negro American League Pennants, and they played in a Negro World Series.
Buck took a hiatus from playing baseball from 1943 to 1945, when he served in the Navy during World War II. He played again for the Monarchs when he returned.
He married Ora Lee Owen in 1946.
He became a manager-player for the Monarchs in 1948. They won league pennants in 48, 50, 51, and 53, and they played in another Negro World Series.
In 1955, O’Neil became a scout for the Chicago Cubs. He then became the first black coach in the major leagues for the Cubs in 1962.
In 1988, O’Neil became a scout for the Kansas City Royals and was named "Midwest Scout of the Year" in 1998.
In 1990, Buck led the effort to establish the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.
Ken Burns made a documentary on baseball in 1994 for PBS, which included Buck O’Neil describing the Negro Leagues. Buck became a popular speaker and appeared on shows such as The Late Show with David Letterman and The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder.
In 2002, he received an induction ring from the baseball scouts Hall of Fame in St. Louis.
In 2006, O’Neil made sure that several Negro League players were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He, unfortunately, was not one of them. He died on October 6, 2006 at the age of 94 from heart failure and bone marrow cancer. In December 2006, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.
The Royals announced in 2007 that they would honor O’Neil by placing a fan in the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat who best exemplified his spirit. The seat is the only red seat and all of the others are blue. In October 2007, an award was created by the Baseball Hall of Fame called the "Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award." It is given out every 3 years. He was posthumously awarded the first one. A life-size bronze statue of Buck with a three plate display behind him was erected in the Hall of Fame.
To learn more about Buck O’Neil, try these:
- I Was Right on Time by Buck O’Neil
- Baseball: [sound recording] a Film by Ken Burns Original Soundtrack Recording
- Baseball [videorecording] by Ken Burns
- Mr. Kansas City: [videorecording] The Life of Buck O’Neil by IBT Media
- The Best of Buck [sound recording]
- Give it Up! The Story of John “Buck” O’Neil by Mrs Stacy Plum’s 1st grade class
- The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America by Joe Posnanski
Blue Ridge Branch