Veterans committees elect six new players to Baseball Hall of Fame. Cubans Miñoso and Oliva elected
Updated: Dec 6, 2021
Buck O’Neil never uttered a single word of bitterness or regret about not being elected to the baseball Hall of Fame. Till the end, he urged those who loved and rooted for him to do the same.
Now, long after a near miss that left many wondering if he’d ever make it, they can rejoice.
O’Neil, a champion of Black ballplayers during a monumental, eight-decade career on and off the field, joined Gil Hodges, Minnie Miñoso and three others in getting chosen for the Hall of Fame on Sunday.
Former Minnesota Twins teammates Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat also were elected along with Bud Fowler by a pair of veterans committees.
“Jubilation,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, that O’Neil helped create.
“While we’re all sad that Buck is not here, you just cannot not be happy for all of those who continued to beat that Buck O’Neil drum,” he said.
Oliva and Kaat, both 83 years old, are the only living new members. Longtime slugger Dick Allen, who died last December, fell one vote shy of election.
The six newcomers will be enshrined in Cooperstown, New York, on July 24, 2022, along with any new members elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. First-time candidates David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez join Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling on the ballot, with voting results on Jan. 25.
Passed over in previous Hall elections, the new members reflect a diversity of accomplishments.
This was the first time O’Neil, Miñoso and Fowler had a chance to make the Hall under new rules honoring Negro League contributions. Last December, the statistics of some 3,400 players were added to Major League Baseball’s record books when MLB said it was “correcting a longtime oversight in the game’s history” and reclassifying the Negro Leagues as a major league.
O’Neil was a two-time All-Star first baseman in the Negro Leagues and the first Black coach in the National or American leagues. He became the ultimate ambassador for the sport until his death in 2006 at 94 and already is honored with a life-sized statue inside the Hall of Fame.
For all O’Neil did for the game his entire life, many casual fans weren’t entirely familiar with him until they watched the nine-part Ken Burns documentary “Baseball,” which first aired on PBS in 1994.
There, O’Neil’s grace, wit and vivid storytelling brought back to life the times of Negro Leagues stars Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell, plus the days of many more Black ballplayers whose names were long forgotten.
Kendrick said it was too bad O’Neil won’t be in Cooperstown for the induction ceremonies, “but you know his spirit is going to fill the valley,” he said.
O’Neil played 10 years in the Negro Leagues and helped the Kansas City Monarchs win championships as a player and manager. His numbers were hardly gaudy – a .258 career batting average, nine home runs.
But what John Jordan O’Neil Jr. meant to baseball can never be measured by numbers alone.
O’Neil was a coach with the Chicago Cubs and enjoyed a prolific career as a scout.
His impact is visible to this day.
Along with his statue in Cooperstown, the Hall’s board of directors periodically present the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award to a person whose “whose extraordinary efforts enhanced baseball’s positive impact on society … and whose character, integrity and dignity” mirror those shown by O’Neil.
In 2006, it appeared O’Neil would get to soak in the praise earned for his work when the Special Committee on Negro Leagues convened to study candidates for the Hall of Fame. The panel indeed elected 17 new members but O’Neil was not among them, narrowly missing out.
O’Neil was chosen to speak on behalf of those 17 newcomers, all deceased, on induction day. True to his nature, he didn’t emit a single word of remorse or self-pity about his own fate of being left out.