The 92-year-old chairman of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in
Kansas City, Mo., offers some diamond thoughts.
This is an article from the April 5, 2004 issue
SI: You charmed America a decade ago in Ken Burns's Baseball.
What was it like becoming a TV star at 82?
O'Neil: They say I looked pretty good, didn't they? I tell you,
I'm having a good time.
SI: Has the steroids scandal tarnished your love of baseball?
O'Neil: Not at all. I think a lot of the guys are not using the
steroids. But if they are, they should do something about it. Not
only for baseball but also for the guys' health, because it's
going to kill them off very young. Ever since there's been
sports, people have been doing little things to boost 'em up. In
my era some of the guys wanted a little sip. They wouldn't get
drunk, but they wanted a little boost.
SI: Who was the best player you ever played against?
O'Neil: Oscar Charleston. He played with the Indianapolis ABCs
[during a career that lasted from 1915 until 1941]. The best
major league baseball player I've seen was Willie Mays, but the
best baseball player was Oscar Charleston. He could hit you 50
home runs and steal you 100 bases.
SI: How good was Satchel Paige?
O'Neil: Satchel Paige was better than good. In Washington, before
they had all those speed guns in the ballpark, the government had
a contraption there that registered speed. They clocked Satchel
at 100 miles per hour. He said to me, "You know what,
Nancy"--which is what he called me--"I didn't know they were
timing me, because I could throw harder than that." That sucker
was just great!
SI: Is George Steinbrenner good for baseball?
O'Neil: He's done some wonderful things he doesn't want anybody
to know about. Mr. Steinbrenner puts up the lights at the
Grambling State ballpark. So I tell folks Mr. Steinbrenner can't
have but 40 ballplayers on that roster. And there's more than 40
ballplayers in the world. So get off your rump and work with what
SI: How much would the Buck O'Neil who hit .353 in 1946 for the
Kansas City Monarchs cost Steinbrenner?
O'Neil: Hmm. I think he'd have given me a little money [laughs].
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