Hall to recognize O'Neil's legacy
Calls for induction spur statement by board of directors
KANSAS CITY -- The calls for Buck O'Neil to get his due keep rolling in, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame plans to answer them.
The Hall of Fame announced plans to do what the Negro Leagues selection committee didn't do earlier this year: honor O'Neil, who died Oct. 6 of congestive heart failure, and his contributions to baseball in the Hall of Fame.
In a statement released Friday, Hall of Fame chairwoman Jane Forbes Clark said the Hall board of directors, which expressed disappointment that O'Neil didn't get in this year, would do something to reflect his extraordinary contributions to the game. Clark's statement did not elaborate on what the Hall might do.
"The National Baseball Hall of Fame's Board of Directors has a very strong commitment to keeping Buck O'Neil's legacy alive forever," Clark wrote in her statement. "At our last meeting, in July, we began to look at ways to recognize his lasting contributions to our game."
Speaking at O'Neil's memorial Saturday night, Hall president Dale Petroskey echoed Clark's sentiments. Petroskey said the board would weigh many options in terms of what might be a fitting tribute.
"We don't want to rush into it," he said. "We want to do something that's right and significant and that is appropriate."
But Brad Horn, the Hall's director of communications, pointed out that the board did not have the power to unilaterally induct O'Neil, but it can change the rules to allow for his induction.
"Basically, a discussion among the board of directors was that a lasting tribute needed to be made," said Horn, expanding on Clark's statement. "That was the impetus for [Clark's] statement: that the board is working on determining the best course of action to honor Buck's legacy."
O'Neil's legacy included standing up and speaking on behalf of the 17 members of the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues who earned induction to the Hall of Fame in July. Among the people on the final ballot, O'Neil and Minnie Minoso were the only ones still alive.
Instead of looking at his not being inducted as a slight, O'Neil viewed the whole process as a celebration of a bygone era in baseball -- an era of rich stories and great talent. He showed no bitterness, anger or hatred.
"I never learned to hate," O'Neil said at the induction ceremonies. "I hate cancer. Cancer killed my mother. Ten years ago, cancer also took my wife. I hate AIDS. I had a friend who recently died of AIDS. But I can't hate a human being."
It was O'Neil's last public speech, and it was a fiery speech that further endeared him to people everywhere who long ago had learned to love O'Neil for the man he was.
"More than anyone, Buck helped keep the spirit and memory of the Negro Leagues alive, so that researchers, authors and filmmakers would one day be able to document an important and overlooked part of American history, which has happened," Clark said in her statement. "As a result, all baseball fans know so much more about the Negro Leagues today, than ever before."
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.