John "Buck" O'Neil
National Visionary

November 13, 1911 - October 6, 2006
Born in Carrabelle, Florida

Baseball player and first African American coach in Major League Baseball

One of the most charismatic of America’s baseball heroes, Buck O’Neil is considered by many to be one of the game’s greatest ambassadors. With a career spanning seven decades, the three-time Negro League All Star veteran became the first African American coach in the major leagues.

At the age of 12, O’Neil began playing for the semi-professional Sarasota Tigers. Although he traveled throughout Florida with the team, O’Neil had to work as a box boy and shoe shiner to support himself. After graduating from high school, he won a scholarship to Jacksonville’s Edward Waters College, and completed two years before resuming his baseball career.

O'Neil as a young man

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
In 1938, O’Neil’s skill and talent earned him a position as first baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs, a top Negro League team. In 1942, he led the Monarchs in their first Negro World Series win, hitting .353. O’Neil was a member of Satchel Paige’s All Stars, comprised of Negro League stars, which played a team of white major league players, Bob Feller’s All Stars, in a 14-game barnstorming series in 1946. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he returned to the Monarchs, where in 1948 he was named player-manager. The Chicago Cubs tapped O’Neil as a scout in 1956, where he recruited such talents as Ernie Banks, Lou Brock, Oscar Gamble, Lee Smith and Joe Carter. When offered the position of coach for the Cubs in 1962, O’Neil made history as the first African American to coach in the major leagues. At the age of 77, O’Neil returned to Kansas City as a scout for the Royals.

Recognizing the need to preserve and celebrate the history of the Negro League, O’Neil co-founded the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. Because of his articulate and engaging style, O’Neil rapidly became a media favorite and was a key contributor to the “Shadow Ball” segment in Ken Burns’ PBS “Baseball” documentary. He published his autobiography, I Was Right On Time: My Journey from the Negro Leagues to the Majors, in 1996.

Truly dedicated to the sport of baseball, O’Neil served as board chairman of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, as well as a veterans’ committee member for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. He also campaigned for pensions for surviving Negro League players. He was married to the late Ora Lee Owen O’Neil for 51 years.

O'Neil passed away on October 6, 2006. He will be remembered as one of the Negro Leagues’ finest players and appreciated for his insights into the history of baseball.


Buck O'Neil's Wikipedia Page

Ernie Banks Visionary Page

URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/oneiljohn