October 7, 2006

NOW YOU BE GOOD TO GOD:

Baseball Great Buck O'Neil Dies At 94 (AP, 10/07/06)

Buck O'Neil, baseball's charismatic Negro Leagues ambassador who barnstormed with Satchel Paige and inexplicably fell one vote shy of the Hall of Fame, died Friday night. He was 94. [...]

O'Neil had long been popular in Kansas City, but he rocketed into national stardom in 1994 when filmmaker Ken Burns featured him in his groundbreaking Public Broadcasting Service documentary "Baseball."

The rest of the country then came to appreciate the charming Negro Leagues historian as only baseball insiders had before. He may have been, as he joked, "an overnight sensation at 82," but his popularity continued to grow for the rest of his life.

Few men in any sport have witnessed the grand panoramic sweep of history that O'Neil saw and felt and experienced in baseball. A good-hitting, slick-fielding first baseman, he barnstormed with Paige in his youth, twice won a Negro Leagues batting title, then became a pennant-winning manager of the Kansas City Monarchs.

As a scout for the Chicago Cubs, he discovered and signed Hall of Famers Lou Brock and Ernie Banks.

In 1962, a tumultuous time of change in America when civil rights workers were risking their lives on the back roads of the Deep South, O'Neil broke a meaningful racial barrier when the Chicago Cubs made him the first black coach in the major leagues.

Jackie Robinson was the first black with an opportunity to make plays in the big leagues. But as bench coach, O'Neil was the first to make decisions.

He saw Babe Ruth hit home runs and Roger Clemens throw strikes. He talked hitting with Lou Gehrig and Ichiro Suzuki.

"I can't remember a time when I did not want to make my living in baseball, or a time when that wasn't what I did get to do," he said in an interview with The Associated Press in 2003. "God was very good to old Buck."

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 7, 2006 11:05 AM
Comments

Too bad he fell one vote shy of the Baseball Hall of Fame while he was still alive.

Posted by: pchuck at October 7, 2006 3:51 PM
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