Sunday marked a special day for sports fans in Kansas City, and baseball historians across the globe. It would have been Buck O'Neil's 100th birthday. The man never played for the Royals, but was affiliated with the team in his later years as a scout and also as a long-time ambassador for baseball in the community he loved.
Buck has been gone for five years, but his presence is still felt not only at Kauffman Stadium but also at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum housed just east of downtown Kansas City. He is the one of the few baseball figures in the city who can be mentioned in the same breath as George Brett, and not be overshadowed.
His relationship with Kansas City goes back to 1938 when the 26-year old first basemen would be sold to the Monarchs by the Memphis Red Sox. What wasn't known at the time was O'Neil was about to embark on a nearly 70-year relationship with Kansas City that would leave the community certainly for the better.
O'Neil would go on to play 16 seasons for the Monarchs, stopping for two years to serve in the Navy during World War II. From 1948 through 1955 he served as the team's manager in addition to still playing on the team as well. During that time Branch Rickey would break the color barrier in the major leagues when his Brooklyn Dodgers signed former Monarch Jackie Robinson.
While Buck never broke into the major league as a player, he did set a precedent of his own by becoming the first African-American coach in the majors and eventually the manager of the Chicago Cubs. Though he left Kansas City, he eventually would find his way back as at the age of 76 he would became a scout with the Royals in 1988.
If you are familiar with attending Royals games you may have noticed the lone red seat near home plate, and if you haven't you certainly have seen on the jumbotron or noticed on television that Buck O'Neil is recognized at each game as a deserving citizen of the Royals footprint earns the right to sit in Buck's seat through some sort of contribution to their community.
Contributing to the community was something Buck believed in, and in 1990 that become a realization as the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum opened up in Kansas City. With the assistance of former Monarch baseball players, Buck's dream has gone from a small office space and turned into a 10,000 square foot facility that showcases the history of the Negro Leagues. Not only is it full of memorabilia from the era, but the more important fact may be that it is a great educational took that is used to look at baseball's past and show how so many under-mentioned African-Americans made the game what it is today. And there was Buck O'Neil spearheading the efforts, not to focus on what he did during his time in baseball, but to help others learn about the many other great baseball players of years past.
It's a shame that the baseball Hall Of Fame in Cooperstown has yet to elect Buck O'Neil into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but his legacy continues to live on in Kansas City, louder than ever. To those in the community and to passionate baseball fans across the globe, Buck O'Neil is a special person and his vision is still lived each day as patrons pass through the front door at the museum.
You can learn more about Buck O'Neil at a website devoted to him here, and next time you are in Kansas City make sure to visit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum which you can learn more about by visiting their website.