John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil is honored this week for his service in the United States Navy during World War II. O’Neil was a selfless individual, serving two years in the Navy and sacrificing years of his playing career to defend his country.
O’Neil was a stellar first baseman, starting his career with the Memphis Red Sox in the newly established Negro American League in 1937. He went on to play for the Kansas City Monarchs and helped them win four consecutive Negro American League pennants.
His playing career was interrupted when he was inducted into the United States Navy during World War II in 1943. After completing his initial training in Norfolk, Virginia, he served with the Seabees battalion as a Stevedore, assisting in construction duties and delivering food, ammunition, and other supplies as the war moved towards Japan.
He returned to Kansas City in 1946, helping the team advance to another Negro League World Series appearance and captured the batting title with a .353 batting average. His career with the Monarchs was taken to another level when he became a player-manager in 1948. He led Kansas City to league pennants in 1948, 1950, 1951, and 1953 and two Negro World Series titles.
In 1955, O’Neil transitioned his professional career from playing to scouting when he became a scout for the Chicago Cubs and demonstrated his talent for seeing the potential in players. He went on to become part of the Cubs coaching staff, making him the first African American coach in Major League Baseball.
His career brought him back again to the Monarchs, this time as a scout and coach in 1988. While there, he helped create the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which honored the legacy of the Negro Leagues, and served as the chairman. His lifelong ambition was to preserve the history of the Negro Leagues during the days of segregation.
O’Neil’s legacy was honored when he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2022 by the Veterans Committee. His impact also lives on through the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Foundation recognizes Buck O’Neil not only for his baseball talent as a player, coach, and scout, but also as a dedicated Veteran who fought for his country and sacrificed prime years of his baseball career to serve during World War II. O’Neil’s legacy continues to live on through the impact he made with his positive outlook and foresight in the world of baseball and the military.