Buck O’Neil never uttered a single word of bitterness or regret not being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Until the end, he urged those who loved and rooted him to do the same.
Now, long after a near miss that left many wondering if it would ever get there, they can rejoice.
O’Neil, a champion of black baseball players with a monumental eight-decade career on and off the field, joined Minnie Miñoso, Gil Hodges and three others to be chosen for the Hall of Fame on Sunday.
Former Minnesota Twins teammates Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat were also elected along with Bud Fowler by two veteran committees.
“Jubilation,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, which O’Neil helped create.
“While we’re all sad that Buck isn’t here, you just can’t be happy for all of those who have continued to drum that Buck O’Neil drum,” he said.
Oliva and Kaat, both 83, are the only new living members. Longtime slugger Dick Allen, who died last December, fell to an election vote.
The six newcomers will be enshrined in Cooperstown, New York on July 24, 2022, with all new members elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. First-time candidates David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez join Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling on the ballot, with the results of the vote on January 25.
Passed in the previous elections, the new members reflect a diversity of achievements.
It was the first time that O’Neil, Miñoso and Fowler had the chance to make Hall under new rules honoring contributions from the Negro League. The color barrier in Major League Baseball was not broken until 1947 by Jackie Robinson.
Last December, the stats of some 3,400 players were added to the MLB record books when the sport said it was “correcting a long-standing oversight in the history of the game” and reclassifying the Black Leagues into the league. major.
O’Neil was a two-time All-Star first baseman in the black leagues and the first black coach in the National or US leagues. He became the ultimate sports ambassador until his death in 2006 at the age of 94, was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and is already honored with a life-size statue inside the Hall of Fame .
For all that O’Neil did for the game, many casual fans weren’t fully aware of him until they watched Ken Burns’ nine-part documentary “Baseball,” which premiered. times on PBS in 1994.
There, O’Neil’s grace, wit, and vivid storytelling brought the days of Black League stars Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell to life, as well as the days of many other black players including names have long been forgotten.
Kendrick said it was a shame that O’Neil wasn’t at Cooperstown for the induction ceremonies, “but you know his spirit is going to fill the valley.” “
O’Neil played 10 years in the Black Leagues and helped the Kansas City Monarchs win championships as a player and manager. His numbers were barely flashy – a career batting average of 0.258, nine homers.
But what John Jordan O’Neil Jr. meant for baseball can never be measured by numbers alone.
O’Neil was a coach for the Chicago Cubs and had a prolific career as a recruiter.
Its impact is visible to this day.
In addition to his statue at Cooperstown, the Hall’s Board of Directors periodically presents the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award to an individual whose “extraordinary efforts have enhanced the positive impact of baseball on society … and whose character , integrity and dignity ”reflect those shown by O’Neil.
In 2006, it emerged that O’Neil was going to receive deserved praise for his accomplishments and advocacy when the Special Committee on the Black Leagues met to study Hall of Fame nominees. The panel indeed elected 17 new members but O’Neil was not among them, missing little.
O’Neil was chosen to speak on behalf of these newcomers, all of whom passed, on the day of the induction. True to his nature, he hasn’t uttered a single word of remorse or self-pity about his own fate for being left out.
Two months later, O’Neil died in Kansas City. Later that year, former President George W. Bush honored O’Neil’s legacy with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor.
“I’m on the verge of tears,” Burns tweeted. “Buck O’Neil is one of the most amazing people I have met on this planet. I’m so happy and thrilled and know that somewhere Buck is already in an even bigger Hall of Fame. “
Miñoso was a two-time All-Star in the Black Leagues before becoming the first black player for the Chicago White Sox in 1951. Havana-born “The Cuban Comet” was a seven-time All-Star with the White Sox and Indians. .
“Pioneer among Afro-Latinos and Cubans, five-tool dynamo on the baseball field, ‘Mr. White Sox ‘… every description of his career now ends with the words’ Hall of Famer’, ”Chicago President Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement.
There was nothing mini about Saturnino Orestes Armas Miñoso on the pitch. He’s hit over .300 eight times with Cleveland and Chicago, led the AL in stolen goals three times, hit double digits in home runs most every season, and won three gold gloves in the field. left.
Miñoso finished, at least it seemed, in 1964. He returned at age 50 for the White Sox in 1976 – 1 for 8 – and struck twice in 1980, which gave him five. decades of professional player.
The White Sox retired his No.9 in 1983 and he remained close to the organization and its players before his death in 2015.
Fowler, born in 1858, is often considered the first black professional baseball player. The pitcher and second baseman helped create the popular Page Fence Giants Blizzard Team.
Hodges became the last award-winning Brooklyn Dodgers ‘Boys of Summer’ star to reach the Hall, joining Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella and Pee Wee Reese.
Eight-time All-Star with 370 homers and three-time Gold Glover at first base, Hodges solidified his legacy when he led the 1969 “Miracle Mets” to the World Series championship, a surprising five-game victory over the favorite. Baltimore.
Hodges was still the manager of the Mets when he suffered a heart attack during spring training in 1972 and died at age 47.
Her daughter, Irene, said she was with her 95-year-old mother when the vote was announced.
“She just beat her heart and said I’m so happy for Gil. My father was a great manager and a great player but above all he was a great father, ”she said in a statement released by the Mets.
Oliva was a three-time AL batting champion with the Twins, whose career was cut short by knee problems.
“I’ve been looking for that phone call for a long time,” Oliva said on MLB Network. “I had so many people who worked so hard to get me elected. They said I should have been elected 40 years ago. Being alive to tell people it means a lot to me.
Kaat was 283-237 in 25 seasons and a 16-time Gold Glove winner.
“I never thought I was the No. 1 pitcher,” he said. “I was not dominant. I was durable and reliable. I am grateful that they chose to reward reliability.
O’Neil and Fowler were selected by the Early Days committee. Hodges, Miñoso, Oliva and Kaat were chosen by the Golden Days committee.
The 16-member panels met separately in Orlando, Florida. The election announcement was originally scheduled to coincide with the big-league winter meetings, which were called off due to the MLB lockout.
It took 12 votes (75%) for the selection: Miñoso shot 14, O’Neil had 13, and Hodges, Oliva, Kaat and Fowler each got 12. Allen had 11.
Oliva has been an eight-time All-Star and hit .304 in 15 seasons, all with the Twins. The Cuban-born outfielder known for his nasty line strikes was the Rookie AL of the year 1964.
Kaat has been a three-time All-Star, three-time winner of 20 games and pitched in four decades. He propelled the Twins into the 1965 World Series and won a ring as a reliever over the 1982 Cardinals.
Kaat became a longtime broadcaster after he finished acting. During this year’s playoffs, he apologized after saying on an MLB TV show that teams should try to “fill a 40-acre lot” with players who look like the infielder. of the White Sox Yoán Moncada, who is Cuban.
The remark prompted some viewers to recall the US government’s broken promise that freed slaves would get 40 acres and a mule after the Civil War.
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