On Tuesday, at age 94 years, 8 months, and 5 days, he became by far the oldest person to appear in a professional baseball game.
Buck O'Neil, 94, got ready for his turn at bat during the Northern League All Star Game on Tuesday, July 18, 2006, in Kansas City, Missouri. (Mike Ransdell/Kansas City Star/MCT)
O'Neil was signed to a one-day contract with the Kansas City T-Bones on July 18, to allow him to play in the Northern League All-Star Game. Before the game, O'Neil was "traded" to the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, and was listed as the starting shortstop, although after drawing an intentional walk, he was replaced before actually playing in the field. At the end of the inning, another "trade" was announced that brought O'Neil back to the Kansas City team, allowing him to lead off the bottom of the inning as well (drawing another intentional walk).
Due to racial segregation, O'Neil was denied the opportunity to attend high school, and was certainly unable to play in the Major Leagues. He left Florida in 1934 for several years of semi-professional "barnstorming" experiences, where one of his teammates was the legendary Satchel Paige. The effort paid off, and in 1937, O'Neil signed with the Memphis Red Sox for their first year of play in the newly-formed Negro American League. His contract was sold to the Monarchs the following year.
O'Neil had a career batting average of .288, including four .300-plus seasons at the plate. In 1946 the first baseman led the league in hitting with a .353 average and followed that in 1947 with a career-best .358 mark. He also posted averages of .345 in 1940 and .330 in 1949. He played in four East-West All-Star games and two Negro League World Series.
A World War II tour in the U.S. Navy from 1943-1945 briefly interrupted his playing career.
In 1948 he took over as player/manager of the Monarchs and guided them to two league titles in 1953 and 1955.
Off the Field
O'Neil left the Monarchs following the 1955 season, and in 1956 became a scout for the Chicago Cubs. He was named the first black coach by the Cubs in 1962 and is credited for signing Hall of Fame player Lou Brock to his first pro contract. He is sometimes credited with also having signed Hall of Famer Ernie Banks to his first pro contract, but in fact did not. Banks was originally scouted and signed to the Monarchs by Cool Papa Bell, then manager of the Monarchs' barnstorming "B" team, in 1949. Banks played for the Monarchs briefly in 1950 and again in 1953 when O'Neil was his manager, and was signed to play for the Cubs more than two years before O'Neil was hired as a scout.
After many years with the Cubs, O'Neil became a Kansas City Royals scout in 1988, and was named "Midwest Scout of the Year" in 1998.
O'Neil gained national prominence with his compelling narration of the Negro Leagues as part of Ken Burns' PBS documentary on baseball. Since then he has been the subject of countless national interviews, including appearances on Late Night with David Letterman and the Late, Late Show with Tom Snyder.
In 1990, O'Neil led the effort to establish the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) in Kansas City, Missouri, and still serves as its honorary Board Chairman.
On May 13, 2006, he received an honorary doctorate in education from Missouri Western State University where he also gave the commencement speech.
Hall of Fame?
O'Neil was a member of the 18-member Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee from 1981 to 2000 and played an important role in the induction of eight Negro League players during that time. O'Neil was nominated to a special Hall ballot for Negro League players, managers, and executives in 2006, but failed to receive the necessary 75% to gain admission.
After hearing that he had not been elected to the Hall at age 94, O'Neil spoke to about 200 well-wishers who had gathered to celebrate, but instead stood hushed and solemn. "God's been good to me," he told the crowd. "They didn't think Buck was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. That's the way they thought about it and that's the way it is, so we're going to live with that. Now, if I'm a Hall of Famer for you, that's all right with me. Just keep loving old Buck. Don't weep for Buck. No, man, be happy, be thankful."
Adapted from wikipedia.org