This week as part of Black History Month, we introduce you to Buck O'Neil, one of the most beloved figures in the history of the league.
If Buck O'Neil only told the stories of the Negro Leagues, he would have a special place in history, but he was more than that. An accomplished player, exceptional manager, scout and the first African American coach in MLB.
In 1934 Buck would sign to play for the Miami Giants., then an unofficial minor league club for the Negro Leagues. He would then play for several negro "minor league" teams before signing on with the Memphis Red Sox in 1937.
The following season Buck would tryout for the Kansas City Monarchs, making the team and becoming their new first baseman. The Monarchs would win Negro League pennant that year and the next three seasons. The next season, Satchel Paige would join the team and Buck and Satchel's friendship would give birth to one of baseball's great stories.
Satchel Paige gave Buck the nickname “Nancy”. Paige met a young lady named Nancy while the team was in Chicago and invited her to his hotel room. O’Neil suddenly realized Paige’s fiancé was visiting, and doing some quick thinking, Satchel moved Nancy another room. In the middle of the night, Paige came knocking on Nancy’s door, calling out, “Nancy! Nancy!” O’Neil heard Paige’s door opening and knew his fiancé was curious to see what the noise was. Buck opened his door, asking, “Yeah, Satch. What do you want?” Realizing Buck had just bailed him out, Paige responded, “Why Nancy. There you are.” Thus Buck would forever be “Nancy.
In 1948, Buck would be named player-manager of his beloved Monarchs. Because of the exodus of Negro League players to the MLB, the league began having financial challenges. Buck would become a scout to help keep the team fiscally solvent. Buck would recommend Elston Howard to the Yankees and Ernie Banks to the Cubs. After the 1955 season, Buck would join the Chicago Cubs as a scout and would discover Oscar Gamble and Lou Brock among others.
In 1962, Buck would join the Cubs coaching staff making him thee first African American coach. Two years later he would return to scouting and discover Lee Smith and Joe Carter.
Buck would eventually join a group working to create a new museum dedicated to the history of the Negro Leagues. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was born. Shortly after that, Documentarian Ken Burns was producing a nine part series on Baseball and chose Buck to tell stories in the Negro League section. Buck would later say "I think what I have talked about are the same things I have talked about for a long time, but now someone is listening". The now 82 year old became an overnight sensation.
Buck would serve on the Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee from 1981-2000, overseeing 11 Negro League inductees. In 2005 Buck himself was on the ballot, but missed out by one vote. Needing someone to speak on behalf of the 17 Negro Leagues inductees, Buck was selected to speak at the induction ceremony.