On October 6, 2006 the great Buck O’Neil passed away. Buck was a pillar in the Kansas City community and was one of Negro League baseball’s best products. Now ten years later, Kansas City law officials , MoDot, and the Negro League Museum decided to honor the man by naming a bridge after him. The bridge is located on highway 169 crossing over the Missouri River. This was known as the “Broadway Bridge” but now its name is the John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil memorial bridge. As I sat at the ceremony I thought about the legacy and impact Mr. O’Neil had on the different people in this community and the baseball community. People from all walks of life came and spoke on his behalf. Politicians, former Major League players, community activist, and writers all spoke candid and respectfully on Mr. O’Neil’s behalf. Many felt remorse that Buck was never inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Most of the people were older in age so they remembered Buck. I’ve only read books and heard his name come up in Negro League baseball conversation. After the ceremony I took it upon myself to look up Buck O’Neil and learn more about him.
John Jordan O’Neil was born in Carabelle Florida on November 13, 1911. Growing up in the rural South O’Neil lived through the racial caste Jim Crow system. Because of the racial laws of the South Buck was denied high school education in his town so he went to go live with a uncle in Jacksonville where he could attend school. Buck attended high school and even took a few college courses during his years in Jacksonville. Buck found a love for baseball at a young age. In 1934, he stated playing semi-professional ball where they “barnstormed” against other major league teams in exhibition games. Buck played well and in 1937 he was signed to the Negro League Memphis Red Sox. A year after playing with the Red Sox he was signed to play for the Kansas City Monarchs. From 1937-1955 Buck had a career .288 batting average and five .300 plus batting seasons. He was selected to four East vs West Negro League All-Star games and he played in two Negro World Series winning one in 1942. Buck served in the Navy in World II from 1943-45.
Buck went on to become the manager for the Kansas City Monarchs for eight seasons, winning two league titles. After the Negro Leagues ended Buck became the first African American scout for a major league team. He was a scout for the Chicago Cubs where he sought out lots of great talent. In 1962, O’Neil became the first African American manager in the Major Leagues. He is credited with signing Hall of Fame Lou Brock to his first signing deal. O’Neil is also credited with the career of Ernie Banks. After Buck’s Cubs tenure he became a scout for the Royals and soon retired from the game. Buck is one of the founders of the Negro League Baseball Museum which opened in 1990. His first hand experience in the league gives the museum its true nature of the league. Buck is remembered as a great baseball player and manager but he’s also remembered as a statesman of Negro League baseball and a great man of the people. He deserves this honor and we should continue to have events and memorials in his honor.