Sunday, January 08, 2006

Buck O’Neil in a league of his own


By JEFF PASSAN The Kansas City Star One day, Buck O’Neil will no longer be here, flirting with five women a quarter of his age, touring the country like a roadie, telling yarns long enough to knit a sweater that would warm the world. At the rate he’s going, the 94-year-old O’Neil could very well chug until he’s 150 years old — and still have enough energy to talk up the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, as he did all day Saturday before its annual Legacy Awards ceremony.

“Buck is everything,” spokesman Bob Kendrick said. “But as an organization, we have to start to think about life without Buck O’Neil. In some respects, it’s like the Kansas City Monarchs and Satchel Paige. Without him, they were a good team. With him, they were great. And we have to be prepared when there isn’t a Buck O’Neil running around the country. There won’t be another. So it’s incumbent that we build.”

The awards marked the start of perhaps the museum’s most important year since 1997, when it moved from the Lincoln Building to its current location at 18th and Vine. Thirty-nine former Negro Leagues players, including O’Neil, are on a special ballot for entry into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. If there’s ever a time for the museum to foster its fan base and fortify its coffers, Kendrick believes it’s now, when the Negro Leagues will get a new jolt of buzz.

O’Neil, one of two living players on the ballot along with Minnie Minoso, will star on the talk-show circuit. He’ll wear Negro Leagues gear made by Nike, which recently partnered with the museum and could provide a windfall of merchandising revenue. He’ll raise funds for the new Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center, a $15 million project expected to break ground in late spring at the old Paseo YMCA, where the Negro Leagues were founded. And, in all likelihood, he’ll talk about what it feels like to be a Hall of Famer... [ more ]

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