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October 06, 2006

Negro League Great Buck O'Neil Dies: Baseball's charismatic Negro Leagues ambassador, who barnstormed with Satchel Paige and inexplicably fell one vote shy of the Hall of Fame, died Friday night. He was 94.

posted by hawkguy to baseball at 10:57 PM - 21 comments

ESPN: "What would it mean to you, personally, to get in the Hall of Fame?" Buck O'Neil: "It's the top of the line. That's as high as you can go. For me, that would be high as I could go..." The committee blew it.

posted by ?! at 11:20 PM on October 06

The committee blew it. That's very easy to say, because the man was charismatic and beloved. I loved the man, too. But, and I have said this before in this forum, none of us saw O'Neil play, and after an extensive -- near exhaustive -- review of all information available on the Negro Leagues, the committee (undoubtedly leaning emotionally toward his election) felt his numbers just didn't warrant it. And that seemed to be okay with Buck. The timing of O'Neil's passing is unfortunate, because it is easy to draw the conclusion that the Hall broke his heart. I don't believe that's true. He spoke at the Induction Ceremony this year with a light spirit, and I got to spend some time with him that weekend. His life didn't revolve around accolades, and to suggest so does him disservice. His life revolved around people and the game of baseball, in that order. He was loving, lovable, and well loved. A man who belongs in the People Hall of Fame, and undoubtedly one who will be elected by virtue of those things that will be said about him upon his passing. I don't mean to speak as though I was his closest friend, but it seemed to me that O'Neil wore his feelings prominently and shared them easily. I simply suggest that we don't use O'Neil's passing to thrash at racism, segregation, or the Hall of Fame. I believe it does his life a disservice. Buck loved his life and the people in it. He gave much to the game, and the game returned the favor. He would be dismayed to find that his passing brought renewed anger rather than a celebration of all the good things that happened to him, and all that he brought unto the world. Go in peace, Buck. I'm going to miss that ever-present smile.

posted by BullpenPro at 12:00 AM on October 07

.

posted by scully at 07:15 AM on October 07

I have a difficult time believing that racism played a part in Mr. O'Neil not getting inducted in the HOF. I am sure that time was against almost all of the Negro League players. The fact they played so long ago with so few living witnesses places them at a serious disadvantage at best. People who saw them actually play are becoming more rare every day. That being said, there are many people in the HOF due to their contribution to baseball, i.e. Owners, Commishioners, announcers and writers. So, if Mr. O'Neil does not deserve to be inducted as a player (which I feel he does), then perhaps he can be inducted as an ambassador for baseball. I can assure you that anyone who met him would agree that he was, even to his dying day a baseball man. The world has lost another link to history and a very classy gentleman.

posted by BSUJIM at 08:09 AM on October 07

I didn't mean to suggest that racism had anything to do with Buck's standing with the Hall. I was just listing things together that people who look back at Buck's life and career might get angry about (being shut out from the white leagues, etc.). Look for the Hall to very soon announce a new award honoring "Contributions To The Game" in the name of Buck O'Neil.

posted by BullpenPro at 08:38 AM on October 07

I always think of his story of working as a kid, thinking, "Damn, there got to be something better than this." Here's hoping there is.

posted by yerfatma at 08:55 AM on October 07

Bullpen Pro: Just wanted to tell you that, as a member (former) of the camp that argued about the travesty of Buck not making the HoF, your first post in this link was possibly the best explanation/argument I have ever heard regarding the subject. Additionally, it is an incredibly well-written tribute to a man who deserved every word of it.

posted by hawkguy at 09:27 AM on October 07

He was an amazing man. May God bless and keep him. Rest in peace.

posted by budman13 at 10:12 AM on October 07

BullpenPro: When the HoF decision was announced we fell on different sides of the decision. I doubt our positions will change, but mine wasn't merely "very easy to say." I gave much thought then, and again when Mr. O'Neil passed. No, we didn't see O'Neil or most of the candidates play. But then again the full committee didn't have that honor either. How did they base their votes? Fay Vincent, non-voting chair, said, "Each person evaluated the candidacy as he or she saw fit. There's no way I or anybody can answer that except to say that we consistently applied what we thought was a very high and rigorous standard. For some people, the absence of statistical data, because of early years, would have been a disability. Other people might not have focused as much on that." I believe that four members of the committee made a mistake by not voting for O'Neil. His stats weren't the only criteria for which he should have been considered. Of the 17 who were voted in, only seven played in the Negro Leagues. Five played before that time, and the rest were executives -- who obviously weren't inducted based on their stats. Obviously this vote wasn't entirely statistically based. "And that seemed to be okay with Buck." -- As you say, you weren't a close friend of the man. You can base that opinion on his published words and interviews. My opinion is Mr. O'Neil had the grace to not question the decision and focus on those who were inducted. Good for him. But the quote I posted earlier certainly showed a man who was excited at the prospect his work for baseball would be honored. I did see Mr. O'Neil's passing as a shame. I know death happens to everyone, but it's always a shame when someone who seems to so enjoy life passes from it.

posted by ?! at 04:02 PM on October 08

My opinion is Mr. O'Neil had the grace to not question the decision and focus on those who were inducted. I second that opinion, and Buck's actions only made me love him more.

posted by mjkredliner at 04:09 PM on October 08

a 2003 interview with Buck.

posted by goddam at 05:17 PM on October 08

I doubt our positions will change, but mine wasn't merely "very easy to say." I gave much thought then, and again when Mr. O'Neil passed. I didn't mean to suggest that you hadn't given it thought, or that it was a careless opinion. I just meant that it is a position that is easy to take because I highly doubt you could find a person who wouldn't be perfectly happy to see Buck honored in such a way. Including myself. I believe that four members of the committee made a mistake by not voting for O'Neil. His stats weren't the only criteria for which he should have been considered. By what criteria are you basing your view of his electibility (bearing in mind that since 1939 candidates are elected under one of four categories -- Owners/Executives, Umpires, Managers, or Players)?

posted by BullpenPro at 08:49 AM on October 09

bearing in mind that since 1939 candidates are elected Sorry, that should have read "1936."

posted by BullpenPro at 09:09 AM on October 09

Re: "easy:" Thanks for clearing that up. As for the special election: The committee wasn't charged with the exact same criteria as the regular yearly vote or the Veteran's Committee vote. For example: "The final ballots represent players, managers, executives and builders who are top-tier candidates and worthy of review for consideration for election to the Hall of Fame. " -- Fay Vincent Do I think O'Neil should be in as a ballplayer? I didn't see him play, but he didn't think so: "The truth is, I don't belong; I was a very good ballplayer, but very good ballplayers don't belong in the Hall of Fame. Great ballplayers do." So, no, not as a player. But the special ballot didn't have separate Player and Composite Ballots -- as the Veteran's Committee uses. The special committee used "Negro League" and "Pre-Negro League" ballots. Here was O'Neil's bio from the Negro League ballot: "First baseman and later the manager of the Kansas City Monarchs….Appeared in four East-West All-Star games as a player and as manager, he sent more players to Major League Baseball then any other manager in black baseball history, including Ernie Banks, Elston Howard and Pancho Herrera, among others…An outstanding motivator, managed the Monarchs to four league championships in 1948, 1950, 1951 and 1953…In 1962 became the first African American coach in the major leagues and has effectively championed the cause of the Negro leagues since their demise in the late 1950s." The rules were different for this special election, so I don't think a category is as important as it is with the Veteran Committee elections. (I don't care much for the "categories," but that's a subject for another day.) Call him a "Builder" if you must. Obviously, he was to be considered for more than his play on the field. Based on such my "vote" would have taken in his total life in baseball. He thought about how he might be elected someday: "Oh, I'd like to think I might get in the Hall one day, but maybe as a manager or for other contributions that I made to baseball." I agree with that line of reasoning. Is that a better explanation of my thoughts?

posted by ?! at 06:41 PM on October 09

The committee wasn't charged with the exact same criteria as the regular yearly vote or the Veteran's Committee vote. Regardless of the criteria listed on the ballot, the Hall of Fame still designates all inductees as Player, Manager, Umprire, or Executive. Pick up any HOF yearbook and you'll see this (or just look here). I think I understand why you are joining many others in your wish to have O'Neil inducted (and I do appreciate the time you have spent in forming your argument). However, if the special ballot elected him, would "Manager" fit the bill for why he belongs? "Pioneer?" I really don't think either of those describes why you think he belongs (even recognizing him as a "Pioneer" as the first black major league coach doesn't really illustrate what his true contribution to the game was). The area in which O'Neil deserves recognition is one that is shared by a few people. Ambassadors of the game come in many different packages. Max Patkin, Al Schacht, Victory Faust, Ken Burns, George Will, Bernard Malamud, W.P. Kinsella, the San Diego Chicken, Jules Tygiel, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Billy Crystal.* The Hall of Fame needs to have some sort of Lifetime Achievement Award which, like the Frick and Spink Awards, gives a different kind of recognition to people who have contributed a lifetime of good work in the name and interest of baseball. I believe that O'Neil will inspire this kind of award to be created, that the Hall will name it for him, and that it will become a more fitting tribute to the man than putting him in the plaque gallery. *Please don't get too caught up in how you feel about this list or any of the individuals therein. I don't want it to derail my central point that O'Neil's recognition needs to come by way of a less orthodox means than traditional induction.

posted by BullpenPro at 04:59 PM on October 10

"Regardless of the criteria listed on the ballot:" -- I can't agree with that. The HoF appoints these committees for a reason -- to fill a hole the baseball writers can not. If you follow your list you'll notice that 18 members of the HoF are not listed as "Player, Manager, Umpire, or Executive." They are listed as "Negro Leaguer." Those members were added to the HoF through committees --The Veterans Committee and the Negro Leagues Committee. Those 18 could have listed as Players. But they weren't. They were not because the HoF is not a steel rules institution. They have bent or altered the rules/criteria to fit special needs. You know the examples. There is no sense in arguing if that is a good or bad thing. The fact is: it has been done. "O'Neil's recognition needs to come by way of a less orthodox means than traditional induction" -- I agree. And that point could have come with the last committee. Obviously seven members agreed with me. Do we know if they thought "player" or "builder" or "pioneer?" I still have to say category doesn't matter to me. Don't worry about the list. It could have been my 5th grade class. I won't be caught up by refuting or praising it. And though I agree with your point about a Buck O'Neil award, it is another discussion. I still feel we're on opposite sides of some fence. Some question or judgment about the role of the HoF where we don't agree. I doubt this is the forum to find that point. However, let me know if you come down to watch the Yanks in spring training. The first beer is on me. We can talk baseball the whole game. But let's not bring up the Expos.

posted by ?! at 06:51 PM on October 10

I believe that O'Neil will inspire this kind of award to be created, that the Hall will name it for him, and that it will become a more fitting tribute to the man than putting him in the plaque gallery. Although I agree with you wholeheartedly, I find it either: 1) Shameful that it will be done posthumously. 2) Presumptuous that the committee thought a 94-year-old would live through another year until they could get it pushed through. As much as he tried to say he thought he didn't deserve to be in the HoF as a player, human nature, as well as his own comments, contradicted the sentiment. "When speaking last week to students from Olathe South High School, Buck O'Neil made a rare request of the young people in the audience. He asked them to promise that they would pray for a favorable vote that would put him into the baseball Hall of Fame." Tried to link the exact photo, but it is in a slide show. It's about a quarter of the way through the tribute.

posted by hawkguy at 08:07 PM on October 10

Thanks. Here is the link.

posted by ?! at 09:53 PM on October 10

There is a dangerous line here between not voting for Buck and voting against him. I don't want to become "that guy that campaigned to keep Buck out of the Hall." To that end, I want to make just a few points, then I will bow out: 1. I never said O'Neil didn't want to get into the Hall. Of course he wanted it, of course he would have found it an honor, and of course, given the opportunity, he would pray for it to happen. I just suggest that his failure to do so was not a defining moment in his life in his mind. Nor should it be in ours. It did not kill him, and it should not be the lead story in his obituary or a reflection on his life and career. 2. The committee that was formed to review black baseball did not do so to singularly determine the fate of Buck O'Neil. Whether he got in or not, O'Neil celebrated the fact that this important piece of baseball history was finally being considered and explored to this degree. 3. The Hall of Fame's board and officers, who had no say whatsoever in the outcome of the committee's election, I believe were somewhat surprised by O'Neil's omission. They did what they could to pay tribute to O'Neil -- inviting him to speak at the ceremony -- but if they intend to create an award in his name (of which I am pretty confident), they couldn't announce it too close to this year's induction. For one, it would show up the committee, giving the appearance of a belief that the committee screwed up. For another, it might seem a ploy to dress up an otherwise bland election year (despite this being the Hall's largest class, only one inductee, Sutter, was alive). They wanted an award for O'Neil to appear genuine and earnest, not a concession or a gimmick. 3. I am happy to talk baseball anytime with anybody, ?!. Doubly so if you're buying beer. I don't know yet where my spring training plans will take me -- right now, it appears to be Orlando which is not too terribly far from Tampa -- but if it works out, I would be happy to take you up on your offer. 4. That picture of Buck is my new desktop. Sweet. Thanks.

posted by BullpenPro at 10:32 PM on October 10

Not in order... 3b) Orlando works as well for me. I think my email address is in my profile. If not it will be before March. 3a) Very possible..and I have a hunch you're closer to the source there than I am. 2) True, he was one of 90-something first considered and he made the first cut. His being happy for the others who did make it doesn't answer why those four committee members didn't say "yes" to O'Neil. 1) "I just suggest that his failure to do so was not a defining moment in his life in his mind." -- Not something I suggested either. 0) "There is a dangerous line here between not voting for Buck and voting against him. " -- As far as that committee was concerned, both options are the same. It was either a "yes" or "nothing" vote for each candidate. They weren't limited to the number they could vote for, so saying "yes" to O'Neil didn't bump anyone else off the list. I think two beers and we can call this one done.

posted by ?! at 04:33 PM on October 12

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