During Black History Month, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Navy Veteran Buck O’Neil, a World War II Veteran elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil Jr. was born in 1911 and got his first taste of baseball as a member of the Sarasota Tigers at 12-years-old. It was during this time in which he took his nickname, Buck, from the Miami Giants co-owner Buck O’Neal. To support himself in a world of discrimination, he found himself shining shoes and working as a box boy. After three years of working as a box boy, he realized that his physical strength could be used for something better, such as baseball.
Being denied admission to Sarasota High School due to his skin color, O’Neil eventually earned his high school diploma from Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida. He also earned a baseball and football scholarship. After completing two years of college, he started his career in baseball.
From 1938-1942, O’Neil was the first baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs. From 1939-1942, they won four consecutive Negro American League pennants. Furthermore, in 1942, 1943 and 1949, he played with the West team of the East-West All-Star Classic.
World War II then led O’Neil to enlist for his two years in the U.S. Navy. Leaving the Monarchs, he traveled to Norfolk, Virginia, in August 1944 to prepare to enter the Navy. During his two years in service, he served in a construction battalion as a bosun. O’Neil would unload and load ships.
Immediately after his service, O’Neil returned to the Monarchs to resume his first basemen position in 1946. During this time, he not only won the batting title but also married Ora Lee Owens. Two years later, O’Neil became player-manager of the team. Furthermore, he led Kansas City to league pennants in 1948, 1950, 1951 and 1953 and two Negro World Series titles.
While denied his chance to play in the major leagues, O’Neil joined the Chicago Cubs as a scout in 1956. He was the first black coach in major league history with the Cubs in 1962.
He remained active in the baseball scene in the 1990s as he continued to work as a scout for the Kansas City Royals, served as the chairman of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum Board of the Directors and was a member of the Veterans’ Committee of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Adamant to preserve the legacy of the Negro Leagues, O’Neil led efforts as a co-founder to open the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1990. He even wrote a 1996 autobiography titled, “I Was Right on Time: My Journey from the Negro Leagues to the Majors.”
On Oct. 6, 2006, in Kansas City, Missouri, O’Neil passed away at age 94 due to bone marrow cancer and heart failure.
We honor his service.
Do you want to light up the face of a special Veteran? Have you been wondering how to tell your Veteran they are special to you? VA’s #VeteranOfTheDay social media feature is an opportunity to highlight your Veteran and his/her service.
It’s easy to nominate a Veteran. Visit our blog post about nominating to learn how to create the best submission.
Writer: Madison Eberhardt
Editors: Nick Nunnally and Julia Pack
Fact checkers: Giacomo Ferrari and David Charles Perez
Graphic artist: Kiki Kelley