Hot Stove #179 – Buck O’Neil to the Hall of Fame – Joy to the World

Rita and I were at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum yesterday. We wanted to be “in the room where it happened” when word came that Buck O’Neil would be in the Hall of Fame. We were optimistic, but guarded. A similar crowd gathered in 2006, and Buck did not make it.

Buck’s good friend Ken Burns was rooting for him. Buck became a nationwide star with his appearances on Burns’ PBS series on baseball.

Sportswriter Joe Posnanski nervously awaited. Joe was not in KC for the announcement, but he had been with Buck at the NLBM in 2006 when the vote went the wrong way. Buck referred to Joe as his son after they toured the country as chronicled in Joe’s book, The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America.


At the museum, we were part of a packed house that gathered on the Field of Legends to watch the announcement on the MLB Network. It felt like New Year’s Eve, but we had no assurance how it would end.


As it turned out, the order of the announcement of the six new inductees resembled a New Year’s countdown.

First, the four winners on the Golden Era ballot were read off by Hall of Fame president Josh Rawitch. Gil Hodges. Jim Kaat. Minnie Minoso. Tony Oliva. Then he said there would be two from the Early Era ballot. Bud Fowler was named first. There was only one more slot. Pins and needles.

As he had with the others, Rawitch started with some facts about the new Hall of Famer. For the sixth selection, he started with “played, managed, coached…” and the Field of Legends erupted. We knew there was only one who fit all of those categories. We kept cheering as more facts came out, and then went over the top when he finally said “John Jordan Buck O’Neil Jr.”


Click here and here for videos showing responses to the announcement. I took a screen grab (below) of the second video showing Satchel Paige at the left and Rita in the middle with her hands clasped. I am at the far right in the white cap, partially obscured by our friend Jim Fitzpatrick who was there with his wife Patty.

There was no shortage of tears of happiness. Lynn Worthy, the Royals beat writer for the KC Star, posted his story online and included these photos (by Susan Pfannmuller) of Bob Kendrick and Kiona Sinks (NLBM’s Community Engagement Manager). 

Among those going onstage to hug Bob Kendrick were Mayor Quinton Lucas, former baseball star Joe Carter and County Executive Frank White (video here). Joe Carter (below with Bob) was scouted and signed for the Chicago Cubs by Buck O’Neil.


Champagne was distributed to the crowd, and we toasted Buck O’Neil (video here). Below, left to right, Bob Kendrick, Kiona Sinks, KC Sports Commission President Kathy Nelson, Joe Carter, Frank White and Quinton Lucas.

 The above photo was posted by KCUR reporter Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga who quoted Mayor Lucas in her article:

“We all are standing in a temple of what his dream was. And to get this recognition from baseball is a sign of the great impact he had on the Monarchs and the Cubs. I am so proud to be the mayor of a city where Buck O’Neil is getting recognized, and I know a bunch of us are going to plan to go up to Cooperstown to see this celebration as if Buck just retired yesterday.”

After MLB Network finished its coverage, Bob took a seat behind Cool Papa Bell and began a video call with Joe Posnanski.

Their call was cast on a screen so we could watch them talk joyfully about Buck. The two people at the far right are Rita and Lonnie watching Joe and Bob on the big screen.

After Bob and Joe finished their call, Rita and I got our chance to offer congratulations to Bob.

Ken Burns checked in via Twitter and posted a video on YouTube (click here).

Alec Lewis, Royals beat reporter for The Athletic, described the end of the night for Bob Kendrick:

“Once the attendees dispersed Sunday night, Kendrick stood on the floor of the museum and scrolled through his phone. He had missed calls from Royals chairman and CEO John Sherman, among many others, including Ozzie Smith, who was a member of the Hall of Fame board-appointed electorate. Kendrick dialed Smith back quickly.

“What’s up Wizard?!” Kendrick said, beaming.

The call continued. Then another. Later on, Kendrick would retreat up the stairs to his office. Past the conference room that was the site of that dark day in 2006. Into his office that houses the O’Neil portrait. Kendrick would grab his hat and briefcase. Exit the museum. And walk down East 18th Street, chest held high, an image of joy.”

Bob had one more stop. He and Kiona Sinks took champagne to the lot next to Buck’s mural on the nearby old YMCA (now the Buck O’Neil Education Research Center). They shook the bottles for a fizzy tribute to Buck – an image of pure joy – don’t miss this video (click here).

That joy is felt by so many of us. In my case, a four-generation family affair. My mother loved Buck O’Neil. They both died in 2006, mom at 85 and Buck at 94. When Buck was on his book tour in 1996, Rita and I got her a copy of his book:

I Was Right On Time by Buck O'Neil

Inside the book…

At the book signing, Buck gave it up for mom’s great-granddaughters (my granddaughters) Carly (10) and Alex (12).

“Give it up” was a trademark of Buck’s. This morning, Joe Posnanski reminded us in his post on Buck’s election: “’Give it up,’ he used to say, and he would stretch out those arms and smile that big smile of his and people wouldn’t go in to hug him as much as they would melt into him.”

See Joe’s full post here, and for another big treat, watch this video (titled “Give It Up”) showing Buck with the 2004-05 class of Primitivo Garcia World Language School.

In 2016, Rita and I went to Cooperstown and were greeted by Buck (the statue was dedicated in 2008). We plan to return to Cooperstown to see Buck’s new honor, his bronze plaque in the sacred Plaque Gallery. 

Thank you Buck, for so many reasons.


Let Buck have the last words: “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” (click here).