If there is one thing that Kansas City knows how to do right, it’s throwing a party. And that’s just what is in order for the late, great John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil, who finally was selected for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday night.
Mayor Quinton Lucas said he and Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, have already started talking about how the the city will celebrate the win.
“Nothing is off the table,” Lucas told us. “This is like a championship game win for a Kansas City sports franchise. I could not be more excited for Buck’s family, the Negro League Baseball Museum and our city. We will celebrate his life.”
Maybe with an annual Buck O’Neil Day, to assure his legacy of love and unity gets shared in perpetuity. As well it should.
O’Neil is among seven who will be honored at the hall in Cooperstown, New York, on July 24, 2022. He is one of three pioneering Black players in the class, along with Minnie Minoso and Bud Fowler, thought to be the first African American to play professionally.
But it’s O’Neil who that those who gathered at the museum in Kansas City’s historic 18th & Vine Jazz District cheered loudest for Sunday night.
Those shouts had been waiting for 15 years. In 2006, O’Neil was up for consideration into the Hall of Fame but didn’t get the votes. He died shortly after that heartbreaking disappointment. He was 94.
O’Neil, known as an ambassador for baseball, played 10 seasons with the Memphis Red Sox and Kansas City Monarchs, and then became a scout for the Chicago Cubs and the first Black coach in Major League Baseball history.
He didn’t live to see his Hall of Fame induction, something that probably makes a lot of his fans sad. But he should finally get the party the city planned for his 95th birthday in November 2006, because Kansas City loved Buck. And he loved this city. He played a major role in establishing the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Hundreds lined up there to say their goodbyes when he died.
“Knowing and loving Buck has been the greatest thrill in my professional career,” former Star writer Wright Thompson wrote at the time of O’Neil’s death. “Buck was a sporting pioneer in the real sense of the word, He changed people’s hearts.”
Kansas City has already memorialized O’Neil, renaming the Buck O’Neil Bridge (formerly the Broadway Bridge) which carries U.S. Route 169 over the Missouri River, for him. All that’s left to do now is plan the kind of party that would make Buck smile and sing, as he often did: “The greatest thing, in all my life, is loving you.”