JEFFERSON CITY | Six years after narrowly missing induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the late and beloved Negro Leagues ambassador Buck O’Neil was inducted Monday into the Hall of Famous Missourians.
A bust of the former Kansas City Monarchs first baseman, who died in 2006 at age 94, will grace the state Capitol’s third-floor rotunda.
“As an athlete he was one of the greatest players to play the game,” House Speaker Steven Tilley said. “But as a person, he truly deserves to be enshrined as the greatest of all time. There is no doubt that he belongs here among the greatest citizens in the history of our state.”
O’Neil won two batting titles during his 11 seasons with the Monarchs, a team in baseball’s Negro Leagues. He was later hired as a scout by the Chicago Cubs in 1962, making him the first black in a coaching position with Major League Baseball.
He returned to Kansas City in the late 1980s as a scout for the Royals.
In 2006, O’Neil became the oldest professional baseball player in history, signing a one-day contract with a minor league team a few months before he died.
But as impressive as O’Neil’s accomplishments were on the baseball diamond, most of Monday’s ceremony focused on what he did away from the field. After his baseball career, O’Neil raised money to build the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.
Museum president Bob Kendrick spoke of O’Neil’s passion for sharing stories and his constantly positive attitude.
Kendrick recalled the day when O’Neil was passed over for induction into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., as 17 other Negro Leagues players received baseball’s highest honor. After hearing he had not been selected, Kendrick said, O’Neil walked out into a room of 300 friends and family members and told them not to be upset with the selection process.
He would later go on to speak at the induction ceremony for the other Negro Leagues players.
“Buck O’Neil took that news like a man,” Kendrick said. “He put his arms out to all of us and said, `It’s OK.”’
Former Royals second baseman Frank White said O’Neil’s optimism was infectious and motivated others, both on and off the field.
“There was never a cloudy day in Buck’s life,” White said. “He took the situations of his life and made the best of them. I really feel that Buck has made the Hall of Fame tonight.”
After the speeches were finished, White, Tilley and others pulled away a black cover to reveal O’Neil’s smiling face cast in bronze.