If you are a fan of this column, then you have been introduced to my three knuckleheads, Maddie (the big sister, age 14), John and Jordan (boy and girl twins, age 13). They each play two sports. They all play basketball, and for second sports, Maddie swims, Jordan runs track, and John plays baseball. This boy bleeds baseball; he can identify players, their teams and insert a few stats. Lately I have attempted to introduce him to the Negro League (NL) players. It’s a slow process and an uphill battle, but I am fighting the good fight and some of it is sticking, depending on the attention level at the time.

Recently, I was looking at a plaque given to me by my trainer (Michael Ebanks) and John was looking over my shoulder. I came to life when a voice bellowed, “Whozzat”?  Closer scrutiny revealed that this beautiful piece of wall art with 3D depictions of eight Negro League stars was incomplete. One player wasn’t identified, and closer scrutiny revealed it was “Buck” O’Neil.

I realized that a good many Americans who have followed the stories of some of the NL stars don’t know who Buck is. Buck is not among the usual suspects such as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, “Cool Papa” Bell, “Double Duty” Radcliffe or Rube Foster. These names only scratch the surface of Negro League stars, but even if you dig deeper, you still may not find any mention of Buck O’Neil.

John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil was born in 1911. Some say he was born before his time, but Buck would say he was born right on time. He had skills as a baseball player, and put them to good use in the Negro Leagues. He was a player/manager with several teams, but mostly with the Kansas City Monarchs. When his playing days were behind him, he caught on as a scout and later coach with the Chicago Cubs. In 2006, a special committee selected 17 Negro League players for the Hall of Fame of Major League Baseball. Despite his expectations of packing his bags for the trip to Cooperstown, Buck was not among the 17. A few months later, Buck died; some say he died of a broken heart.

Buck has been described by some as a backstabber and brown noser. For this reason there were a few voters who put the thumbs down on Buck’s credentials. My father, Sam Lacy, was not a Buck O’Neil fan. He found it distasteful how Buck undermined Larry Lester when credit was passed out for the Negro League Museum in Kansas City. I don’t have any strong opinions about Buck, but for my money Larry Lester is the go-to guy if you need the scoop on the Negro Leagues. However, Buck has been described as fun-loving, a philosopher, and ambassador for Negro League Baseball.

One of the most popular stories about Buck included a lady in a red dress. Entering a hotel, Buck spotted a lady in a red dress outside. His friends noticed that Buck was missing. Upon further scrutiny, it was discovered that Buck was outside talking to this lady. Asked about it later, Buck replied, “Son, don’t ever pass up a red dress.” Translated: “Don’t pass by opportunity.”

Although Buck doesn’t have a plaque in Cooperstown, you can’t enter the museum without being greeted by John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil. There is a life size statue of him in the entryway.


Tim Lacy

Special to the AFRO