A long overdue honor was finally bestowed on Edward Waters alumnus, Major League Baseball, and Negro Leagues Baseball legend John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil on Sunday evening as he was posthumously elected to the 2022 class of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
O’Neil earned his induction from the Hall of Fame’s Early Era Committee that met in Orlando on Sunday. He was one of six inductees announced by the committee, joining Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso, Tony Oliva, and Bud Fowler in the class of 2022.
A native of Carrabelle, Florida, O’Neil donned the Purple & Orange of Edward Waters for six seasons, earning the nickname of “Foots” from his teammates because of his big hands and big feet.
After graduating in 1930, O’Neil began his legendary professional baseball career in 1934, taking part in several barnstorming contests before signing with the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League in 1937.
In 1938, O’Neil’s contract was sold to the Kansas City Monarchs, where he had a career batting average of .288 including four .300-plus batting seasons. O’Neil played in three Negro League East-West All-Star Games and also had two Negro World Series apperances in his career.
After his baseball career was interrupted for two years due to World War II, where he enlisted into the U. S. Navy as part of the Naval Construction Batallion in 1944 & 1945, O’Neil rejoined the Monarchs in 1946 to continue his legendary career.
O’Neil was selected as manager of the Monarchs in 1948 and held the title for eight seasons, where he led the team two two Negro League titles in 1953 and 1955.
O’Neil resigned as Monarchs manager following the 1955 season when the team was sold and became a scout for the Chicago Cubs. He is credited for signing several impactful players for the Cubs, including Hall of Famer Lou Brock. In 1962, O’Neil made history becoming the first black coach in the history of major leagues.
In 1988, O’Neil returned to Kansas City as a scout for the Royals, and was named “Midwest Scout of the Year” in 1998.
O’Neil rose to national prominence with his compelling account of the Negro Leagues as part of Ken Burns’ PBS “Baseball” documentary.
O’Neil also served as a member of the 18-member Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee from 1981-2000, where he was instrumental in the induction of six Negro League players.
O’Neil helped find and establish the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, serving as honorary board chairman and ambassador until his passing in 2006 at the age of 94.
In December of 2006, then President George W. Bush postuhmously awarded O’Neil with the Presidential Medal of Freedom due to his excellence and determination both on and off the baseball field.
O’Neil’s legacy continues to be honored to this day by the Royals by placing a fan in the “Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat” at Kauffman Stadium. At each Royals home game, a fan who best exemplifies O’Neil’s spirit and legacy is placed in that seat.
The Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award is an award given by the National Baseball Hall of Fame to honor an individual who enhances baseball’s positive image on society, who broadens the game’s appeal, and whose integrity and dignity are comparable to the namesake of the award. Five honorees have been bestowed the honor, including O’Neil (posthumously in 2008), and Rachel Robinson, widow of Baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, in 2017.