Buck O'Neil's baseball journey was a winding odyssey from playing in the Negro American League to scouting and coaching in Major League Baseball, followed by decades of dedication to telling the story of the Negro Leagues to the masses and creating a legacy that lives on to this day. On Sunday, that journey reached a new, much-deserved destination: the Baseball Hall of Fame.
O'Neil was one of six inductees announced on Sunday, all voted in by the Hall's Golden Days and Early Baseball Era Committee. Joining him in the class of 2022 are Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso, Tony Oliva and Bud Fowler.
O'Neil's long-overdue induction comes 15 years after his death in 2006 at 91. He played for the Kansas City Monarchs from 1938-42, winning four straight Negro League World Series titles. He was drafted into the Navy in 1943, then returned to baseball in 1946 before being named player-manager of the Monarchs in 1948.
In 1955, he became a scout for the Cubs, then was promoted to coach in 1962, making him the first Black coach on an AL or NL roster. He returned to being a scout in 1964, then went back to Kansas City to be a scout for the Royals in 1988, where he helped found the Negro League Baseball Museum in 1990 and serve as its chairman.
O'Neil was posthumously given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2006.
Hodges debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers at 19 years old in 1943, then was drafted into the Marines to serve in World War II. He returned to play 17 more seasons—15 with the Dodgers and two with the Mets. Hodges won three World Series titles and made eight All-Star teams, retiring after the 1963 season. He went on to manage Senators and Mets until his death in 1972 at age 47.
The epitome of longevity and consistency, Kaat pitched for 25 seasons, 15 of which came with the Twins. He debuted in the 1950's and retired in the 1980's, making three All-Star teams with 16 Gold Glove awards and a World Series championship with the Cardinals in 1982. He led the majors in games started in back-to-back seasons in 1965 and 1966, and his 16 Gold Gloves are tied with Brooks Robinson for the most all-time.
In his autobiography, fellow Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda wrote that Miñoso was "to Latin ballplayers what Jackie Robinson is to Black ballplayers." Debuting in 1949, he was the "first acknowledged dark-skinned Latin player in AL/NL history," according to the Hall. Miñoso played 20 years in the major leagues, making nine All-Star teams.
From 1964 to 1971, Oliva was one of the best hitters in baseball. He made eight All-Star teams and won three AL batting titles during that span, winning the AL Rookie of the Year award in 1964. Knee injuries robbed him of the chance to extend his prime, but his impact on his generation was indelible. He played for the Twins for the entirety of his career, and later was on the coaching staff for Minnesota's World Series wins in 1987 and 1991.
Fowler grew up in Cooperstown in the mid-19th century, part of one of the few Black families in the area at that time. He is considered the first Black player in organized, professional baseball, persisting in the face of widespread racism to lead a career throughout North America that spanned nearly two decades. Fowler was known to play without a glove, yet maintained a stellar reputation for his defensive prowess.
Just missing induction was Dick Allen, a seven-time All-Star and 1972 AL MVP who fell one vote short of qualifying.
The Hall of Fame inductees from the BBWA ballot will be announced on Jan. 15, with the induction ceremony held on July 24.
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