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Archive for Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hall of Fame honors Buck O’Neil

October 25, 2007

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— Buck O'Neil got his spot in the Hall of Fame with a Lifetime Achievement Award created in his memory.

One of the game's most beloved ambassadors, O'Neil was posthumously honored Wednesday by the Hall before the World Series opener between Colorado and Boston.

"His impact on the game has been enormous," commissioner Bud Selig said. "He's now in Cooperstown where he belongs."

O'Neil, a Negro Leagues star and the first black coach in the majors, fell two votes shy of induction to the Hall of Fame during a special election in February 2006.

Many fans were stunned. They were sure he'd finally be rewarded for a lifetime of service and dedication to baseball, not to mention his standout career as a Negro Leagues player.

Months after missing out, O'Neil died at age 94.

Now, a statue of O'Neil will be placed inside the museum, and the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to a worthy recipient no more than every three years.

"I don't think this is necessarily trying to right a wrong. I think we're just trying to honor a person," said former Cincinnati Reds star Joe Morgan, vice chairman of the Hall of Fame.

"There are a lot of people who are not elected to the Hall of Fame that the public, myself included, think should be in. It doesn't mean that we should try to go out and fix something."

An astute spokesman for the Negro Leagues with a light-up-the-room smile, O'Neil gained worldwide fame in 1994 after historian Ken Burns featured him in the documentary "Baseball."

O'Neil was the driving force behind the creation of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and a powerful voice in getting other Negro Leaguers elected to the Hall. Most had been denied a chance to play in the majors before Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947.

More Negro Leagues players and pre-Negro League figures were inducted in a comprehensive, one-time election last year. O'Neil wasn't among the 16 men and one woman selected.

Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey reiterated Wednesday that it was a one-time only election, leaving O'Neil no avenue for induction.

"I think we are going to stand by our word," Petroskey said. "We believe now that all the Negro Leaguers who are deserving of a plaque on the wall are in Cooperstown."

But the Hall of Fame board appointed a committee to examine ways to honor O'Niel's legacy. The committee included Selig, Morgan, former commissioner Fay Vincent and broadcaster Bob Costas, among others.

A Lifetime Achievement Award named after O'Neil is what they came up with.

"That was the goal of this committee, to do the most meaningful thing that we could do," Selig said.

Morgan, for one, thinks it's significant.

"In some ways it's going to even be bigger than getting a plaque in the Hall of Fame because your name is going to come up more frequently as we present the award," he said. "As we African Americans who have played owe a debt to Jackie Robinson for what he did, I think the Negro League players owe a debt to Buck O'Neil for keeping their legacy alive."

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