John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil died tonight. For those in the know, Buck was a revered veteran of Negro League baseball, and an unofficial spokesman for the game since his appearance in Ken Burns' Baseball. He was 94.
Born in Florida, Buck left his home at age 21 to join a "barnstorming" baseball club, traveling the country to play teams from various cities, some from white ball clubs. He was signed in the initial season of the Negro Leagues in 1937, and played out most of his career for the Kansas City Monarchs. His career was put on hold during WWII, like many other ball players, for a two-year stretch in the U.S. Navy. He came back from the war to both play and coach for the Monarchs, then spent over 30 years as a scout and coach for the Chicago Cubs.
He garnered much attention from his interviews during Ken Burns' Baseball documentary, regaling Burns and audiences with long-forgotten tails of the Negro League. Since then, Buck had become a champion of the league, doing interviews and public appearances for anyone willing to listen. He was nominated on a special Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for former Negro League players this past year, but failed to garner the 75% necessary for induction. Always the better man, he put his love for the game first and agreed to speak at the induction ceremony just this past summer.
Buck O'Neil was one of those men of whom not a ill word could be spoken. Always gracious, ever professional, and beloved by the game of baseball. He will be missed.