John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil, a star player in the Negro leagues, and recent proponent of Negro league history, died last night. No cause of death was given (though being 94 years old is probably a good enough), but O'Neil had been in and out of the hospital recently.
Like a lot of people, I hadn't heard of Buck O'Neil until relatively recently. His participation in Ken Burns' "Baseball" documentary pushed him into the national conscience, and he's been a public figure since. I'd see him on television, or I'd read an interview with him, and I'd think, "Wow, that guy really took the whole 'you're not allowed in Major League Baseball because your black' thing remarkably well." Maybe that's part of the reason that he was such a popular guy recently. He never made anyone feel bad about anything.
He wasn't even mad when he came up one vote short to get into the baseball hall of fame this year.
God's been good to me. They didn't think Buck was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. That's the way they thought about it and that's the way it is, so we're going to live with that. Now, if I'm a Hall of Famer for you, that's all right with me. Just keep loving old Buck. Don't weep for Buck. No, man, be happy, be thankful.
Well, I am, but... Buck O'Neil still deserves to be in the hall of fame. If his statistics on the field don't merit his inclusion, how about his contributions to baseball in general? O'Neil was a tireless proponent of keeping the history of the Negro leagues alive, and if he hadn't done that recently, who would have? If it wasn't for Buck, the special election for Negro league players in 2006 might not have even take place.
Help Build Buck's Hall [Negro League Baseball Museum]
Buck O'Neil, Negro Leagues Pioneer, Is Dead at 94 [New York Times]
10 Burning Questions for Buck O'Neil [ESPN Page 2]
Shadow Ball. Buck O'Neil Interview [PBS]