10/06/2006 11:13 PM - KANSAS CITY, MO. - Baseball mourns tonight, as it has lost one of its greatest friends and ambassadors. The legendary John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil, who inexplicably fell one vote short of election to baseball's Hall of Fame last February, has passed away at the age of 94.
Buck was a living history of the game of baseball. Not only was he the first black coach in the major leagues, he was an accomplished scout who signed Ernie Banks and Lou Brock. But it wasn't until 1994, when he appeared in Ken Burns' "Baseball", that he became a nationally recognized figure.
In the intervening years, Buck became one of the most beloved figures in baseball history. He spoke to countless groups, always passing on a message of optimism and love. As a result, those who heard him speak became his fans, and many questioned why Buck wasn't enshrined in Cooperstown last summer.
T-Bones fans saw Buck speak last summer at the Northern League All-Star Game luncheon, when Buck started off singing to the crowd. "The greatest thing/In all my life/Is loving you," was the line that Buck sang, over and over, to begin his talk. And what a talk it was. The man who had seen Babe Ruth hammer home runs in the 1920's, had been an integral part of the color that was the Negro Leagues in the middle of the century, and had heard the crack of Bo Jackson's bat in the 1980's, gave a passionate speech about the importance of education.
Sure, Buck wasn't elected into the Hall of Fame. But anyone who ever came into contact with him would have voted for him in a heartbeat.
Buck's legend will live on. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is currently in the midst of their "Thanks A Million, Buck" drive to raise $1,000,000 in grassroots donations to pay for the renovation of the Paseo Y and construction of Bucks Education and Research Center. Fans may donate at https://www.nlbm.com/buck/donate.cfm.
The T-Bones family is in mourning, and wishes to extend our condolences to all affected. "The Negro Leagues were the original independent baseball, and Buck truly stood as the patriarch of independent baseball," remarked T-Bones owner John Ehlert. "There are no words to accurately express our feeling of loss. We are honored to have had Buck as part of our lives."
Filmmaker Ken Burns perfectly summed up Buck's attitude in the foreword to Buck's autobiography "I Was Right On Time": "His life reflects the past and contains many of the bitter experiences that our country reserved for men of his color, but there is no bitterness in him," he said.
"It's not so much that he put that suffering behind him as that he has brought gold and light out of bitterness and despair, loneliness and suffering. He knows he can go farther with generosity and kindness than with anger and hate."