O’Neil’s hall omission sparks outrage
Kansas City, Mo. ? Politicians in the halls of Congress are thundering their dismay.
Angry calls and furious e-mails have poured into the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City from greats of the game and ordinary fans alike, all with the same question: Can’t anything be done about the exclusion of Buck O’Neil from the National Baseball Hall of Fame?
The answer is no, probably not.
Seventeen people from the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro League era were voted into the hall Monday by secret ballot of a special 12-person committee, who were working off a list of 39 candidates.
The 17 voted in all are deceased. Each received at least nine votes. But O’Neil, the lovable 94-year-old ambassador of the game who most everybody felt would be a lock, fell short.
Former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, who worked closely with the committee as a nonvoting member, feels O’Neil probably has had his last shot.
“I don’t know if anybody would be willing to go out on a limb and say other Negro Leagues guys are going to be considered,” Vincent told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
He declined to comment on unattributed media reports that he had lobbied on O’Neil’s behalf during the committee’s discussions.
“Nobody has more regard for Buck than I do. We’re old friends,” he said. “So I’m disappointed he wasn’t elected. Yet, the ballots were secret. I have no idea who voted, and it’s impossible to know what their reasons were.”
Within hours of Monday’s announcement, the director of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum had heard from Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks and Lou Brock.
“They were like the rest of us; they couldn’t believe what had just happened,” Don Motley said. “My e-mail bogged down from people all over the country raising hell. They’re as shocked as we are at the exclusion of Buck.”
Outrage over O’Neil’s exclusion was heard Wednesday in Congress. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, said the surprising vote had left “a community in tears.”
“Buck O’Neil is a man who has done more than anyone to popularize and keep alive the history of the Negro Leagues,” Cleaver said in a prepared text of remarks made on the House floor. “The fact that he was not voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame is a wrong that only Major League baseball can make right.
“This humble man who has never slighted anyone has been slighted – apparently by a single vote – by a group who looked shortsightedly at his batting average, but not at what he has done for the game of baseball.”
Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., introduced a resolution Wednesday co-sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., honoring the 17 who were selected. Talent said he had planned to introduce the resolution Monday but was so disappointed at O’Neil’s exclusion he held off – until O’Neil urged him to go forward.
“The injustice of the selection committee’s oversight is absolutely heartbreaking,” Talent said.
Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius brought up O’Neil without even being asked during a meeting with reporters.
“I’m just sort of stunned,” she said.
O’Neil, who began his playing career in the 1930s and hit .288 over his lifetime, became the first black coach in the majors in 1962 with the Chicago Cubs. He also has been the face, voice and inspiration behind the Negro Leagues museum.