Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Editorial: No excuse for Hall of Fame omission of O'Neil

Negro Leagues' Buck O'Neil, an All-Star human being, deserves enshrinement in Cooperstown

NEWSDAY | BY GEORGE MITROVICH

March 7, 2006

Buck O'Neil's failure to be elected last week to the Baseball Hall of Fame is shameful. Few people in the history of baseball have done more for the game than the great man from Kansas City.

A special committee, chaired by former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, was formed to address the glaring absence of Negro League greats from the Hall of Fame. Major League Baseball provided a grant to the hall for that purpose but exercised no control over the selection process (and Vincent did not have a vote).

By not electing O'Neil, members of the selection committee did him and the game they profess to love a grave injustice. And because this was a onetime shot to induct Negro Leaguers, there will be no second chance for O'Neil, who recently celebrated his 94th birthday.

Typically, O'Neil's response to the committee's mindless rejection was dignified and gracious. But anyone who knows him would have expected nothing else. His response to the indignity was fueled in the fiery furnace many black Americans have faced in their lives - indignities no child of God should ever face, but from which the character of O'Neil evolved with the strength of steel.

O'Neil's view of the 17 selected was they all belong in the hall. He said if invited, he would go to Cooperstown this summer for the ceremony and speak on behalf of those new inductees. Why was O'Neil excluded? If you're looking for answers from members of the selection committee, you'll wait in vain. The huge storm raised by O'Neil's rejection sent them into hiding.
Dick Freeman, an executive with the San Diego Padres, was asked how O'Neil's exclusion could have happened: "Too often, baseball people think only about what a player did on the field. In Buck's case, their focus was so narrow and constricted they ignored what he has become - the game's foremost ambassador. Moreover, they apparently forgot that without Buck and Ken Burns [who produced the famous baseball series for PBS] few people would have known of the Negro Leagues."

Of course, the choice of Effa Manley, who co-owned the Newark Eagles and becomes the first woman chosen for the hall, makes clear the committee did not limit its selection criteria to on-the-field accomplishments.

For me, O'Neil's exclusion is inexplicable. I've known some extraordinary people - Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm Muggeridge, George Plimpton, Alan Simpson, Gloria Steinem - but no one has impressed me more than Buck O'Neil. [ full story ]

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