O'Neil finds his place in Hall of Fame
Late Negro League icon honored with statue and award
BOSTON -- Buck O'Neil may be gone, but he's certainly not forgotten.The acclaimed late Negro League icon will be honored with a statue and an award in his honor, the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced on Wednesday evening shortly before Game 1 of the World Series between the Red Sox and Rockies at Fenway Park. "He's in Cooperstown where he belongs," said Commissioner Bud Selig during a pregame news conference. "To say he was a great ambassador is almost trite, but it's true in every way." The statue, to be designed and created by renowned sculptor Williams Behrends, will be dedicated next July during the annual Hall of Fame induction weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y. The Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award will honor an individual whose extraordinary efforts enhanced baseball's positive impact on society, has broadened the game's appeal, and whose character, integrity and dignity are comparable to the qualities exhibited by O'Neil. The award will be bestowed by the Hall of Fame's Board of Directors at its discretion, though not more frequently than once every three years. O'Neil will be the first recipient. The statue will be flanked by a plaque describing O'Neil's contributions during eight decades in baseball and another listing the award winners, said Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the Hall of Fame. "Buck touched every facet of baseball, and his impact was among the greatest the game has ever known," Clark said. "The board recognizes this impact Buck had on millions of people, as he used baseball to teach lessons of life, love and respect. His contributions to the game go well beyond the playing field. This award will recognize future recipients who display the spirit Buck showed every day of his life." The announcement comes a little more than a year after O'Neil's death and follows the controversy that evolved when O'Neil wasn't elected in the 2006 Hall of Fame class that acknowledged the accomplishments of 17 of his Negro League and pre-Negro League brethren, 12 players and five executives. Among them was the first woman ever to have a plaque hung in the Hall -- Effa Manley, the co-owner and business manager of the Newark Eagles.
O'Neil was the keynote speaker that day as Cardinals reliever Bruce Sutter was the only Major League inductee. Without missing a beat, he opened his remarks with these three words: "This is outstanding."O'Neil, then 94, died only months later on Oct. 6, 2006. A 12-person committee selected by the Hall's Board of Directors and headed by former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent took five years to review the careers of numerous Negro League players and executives and voted to induct 17 of them, O'Neil falling short by just a single vote. That analysis was supposed to be the final word on Negro Leaguers being given admittance into the Hall of Fame. And it was made clear during Wednesday's news conference that the Hall directors have no intention of revisiting that decision. Instead, they opted to bestow O'Neil with this perpetual honor. "I don't think this is necessarily trying to right a wrong," said Joe Morgan, the Hall of Fame second baseman who is a member of the board. "We're just trying to honor a person. There are a lot of people who are not elected to the Hall of Fame that the public, myself included, think should be in the Hall of Fame, and therefore they're not. "It doesn't mean that we should try to go out and fix something. I think Buck O'Neil is a unique person. Things he did for the game, things he did for the community, things he did for our country, I think he is a unique individual and that's why you see this." O'Neil, who played, managed and coached in the Negro Leagues, broke a formidable color barrier in 1962 when the Cubs made him the first African-American coach in Major League history. The new honor will continue his legacy. Behrends, whose statue of O'Neil is earmarked for a prominent place in the museum, is famous for his work within baseball circles. He has also created bronze statues of Willie Mays, Juan Marichal and Willie McCovey that surround AT&T Park in San Francisco; Tony Gwynn at PETCO Park in San Diego; and Jackie Robinson with Pee Wee Reese in New York City. "His work is magnificent," Clark said, "and we are looking forward to him capturing Buck's enormous character."
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.