Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Buck O' Neil

While a tad late with this post, as a baseball fan, I'm compelled to put my two cents in. Buck O 'Neil, player, manager, super-scout, Kansas City legend, baseball historian, the first African-American coach in the big leagues and the last man standing from the Negro Leagues - as well as a guy who did more after the age of 80 than a lot of us accomplish in a lifetime - passed away last Friday, October 6, at the age of 94. For more info, check out this piece from the Kansas City Star.

To paraphrase the superb
Black Baseball webpage:
"John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil, also called The Skipper, was not only a talented ball player but also an intelligent and cunning manager. Buck started his career briefly with the Memphis Red Sox and the remainder of his playing years were spent with the Kansas City Monarchs. In 1942 Buck lead his team against the Homestead Grays hitting .353. In the 1946 title game against the Newark Eagles, he hit .333, which included two home runs, one of them being a grand slam (The Negro Leagues Professional Baseball, 1998). In 1946 he also led the Negro National Leagues with a batting average of .353 for the season (Mills, 1996). The Monarchs lost in seven games despite his efforts. One outfielder, Jimmie Crutchfield, was quoted saying, "I respected Buck in the clutch. He was that type of hitter. A smart, highly intelligent ball player. Also a good manager and I admired him for that. A hustling ball player" (The Negro Leagues Professional Baseball, 1998).

In 1947, he became manager of the Kansas City Monarchs until 1955 (Margolies, 1992). He coached them to four titles in 1948, 1950, 1951 and 1953. As manager of the Monarchs, Buck sent the most Negro League players on to the white Majors than anyone in baseball history. Some players include Ernie Banks, George Altman, Gene Baker, Sweet Lou Johnson, Satchel Paige, and Bob Thurman. In 1956, the Chicago Cubs hired O'Neil as a scout where he discovered great talents like Lou Brock and Joe Carter. Later he became the first African-American coach in the Major Leagues with the Cubs in 1962. 1998 was Bucks return home, when he got a job as scout for the Kansas City Royals (The Negro Leagues Professional Baseball, 1998)."

Buck's enthusiasm, good humor, amazing memory and considerable skills as a narrator created some of the best moments in the Ken Burns Baseball documentary. Haven't seen the reflections of Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays and Lou Brock on Buck O' Neil, but I'm sure they had plenty to say.

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