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07/25/08 3:43 PM ET

Statue of Buck O'Neil unveiled at Hall

Negro Leagues great also receives eponymous award

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- These words of John J. "Buck" O'Neil are embossed on a sheet of engraved glass behind the statue of his likeness that was unveiled on Friday just beyond the entrance to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum:

"Waste no tears for me. I didn't come along too early. I was right on time."

O'Neil was the great Negro Leaguer who came along too early to salvage a playing career in the Major Leagues and never complained about it. But his dignity and integrity as one of baseball's leading ambassadors until he died on Oct. 6, 2006 -- just weeks shy of his 95th birthday -- meant it never could be too late for his visage to forever grace baseball's most hallowed Hall.

"I'm really grateful that people are going to be able to learn about Buck's legacy," said Winifred O'Neil, Buck's niece and the daughter of his 90-year-old brother Warren, who was also in attendance. "[The statue is] really a perfect likeness."

Those traits, in fact, embody the accompanying award in his name. O'Neil is the first recipient, and on Sunday, during the induction ceremonies, Joe Morgan, the Hall of Fame second baseman and an ESPN analyst, is expected to accept it in his honor with a dozen O'Neil family members present.

The ceremony, which includes the induction of Rich Gossage, Dick Williams, Billy Southworth, Bowie Kuhn, Walter O'Malley and Barney Dreyfuss, will be carried live on MLB.com beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET.

The O'Neil award "honors an individual whose extraordinary efforts to enhance baseball's positive impact on society has broadened the game's appeal, and whose character, integrity and dignity reflect the qualities embodied by Buck O'Neil throughout his life and career."

It can be bestowed again by the Hall's Board of Directors no sooner than three years from now, though it doesn't have to be if there's no deserving recipient at the time.

"The board had the foresight to develop the award and the foresight to name it after a guy who exudes the qualities exemplified by what it's meant to be," said Jeff Idelson, the Hall's new president. "The hard part is going to be to find candidates to match up with him. A pretty high standard has been set."

O'Neil passed away only months after he missed election to the Hall by a single vote, as 17 of his Negro League brethren were selected by a special committee. They were all inducted two years ago when Bruce Sutter, another closer from the Gossage era, was the only player voted in by eligible baseball writers.

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O'Neil never complained about that, either, though many others were upset that he was left out of the group, supposedly the last Negro Leaguers that will ever have their plaques hung in the Hall.

O'Neil was a more than gracious host for the festivities that year, and eying a sun-baked crowd of about 11,000, sitting under a clear blue sky, he said these three words without missing a beat: "This is outstanding."

And so was the unveiling on Friday attended by many members of the O'Neil family and at least 10 Hall of Famers -- Dave Winfield, Lou Brock, Eddie Murray, Billy Williams, Harmon Killebrew, Phil Niekro, Fergie Jenkins, Bob Gibson, Morgan and Bob Feller.

"You always like things like this to happen when individuals are living when he can enjoy it," Williams said. "But for his family and all of us who knew him, it makes us further appreciate what he meant."

Feller, who barnstormed with a group of Negro Leaguers that included O'Neil after the 1946 and 1947 seasons, also said he was glad that O'Neil was recognized.

"It's catch-up," said Feller, who will be 90 on Nov. 3 and is the third-oldest living Hall of Famer. "But it's a fitting catch-up."

More than a fitting catch-up, Winifred O'Neil said.

"I think the way he lived his life was the most important thing," she said.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.