10/24/07 9:57 PM ET
O'Neil finds his place in Hall of Fame
Late Negro League icon honored with statue and award
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
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.