Negro League Star Breaks the Other Color Barrier
How Buck O'Neil Changed American Baseball
by Andrew Pliner, age 13
John “Buck” O’Neil was a player and a coach that changed baseball forever.
O’Neil was born on November 13th, 1911. He lived in the rural city of Carrabelle, FL with his mom, dad, and two siblings. The city only offered schooling up to 8th grade for African-Americans. O’Neil’s dad, John Sr., sent him off to live with family friends so John could attend high school.
He finished high school with good grades and went to college. After two years in college, he dropped out to pursue his baseball dream. He played mostly with small barnstorming teams. This was during the Great Depression and it was a hard way to make a living.
The first big contract he signed was with Memphis in 1937. Memphis was a very unique team. They dressed as women and painted their faces like clowns. Sadly, O’Neil became injured and only played two games that season. In spring of the following year, he signed with what was to be the most famous Negro league team that ever existed, the Kansas City Monarchs.
O’Neil played a couple years with the Monarchs, but then was drafted once again. Only this time it wasn’t for baseball.
The year was 1944, and World War II was at its height. O’Neil and two of his teammates were among the many who went off to war. Defying the odds, all three of the men made it back safely and were back playing baseball by 1946.
Buck O’Neil retired from playing in 1953, but stayed with the Monarchs to help out as a coach until 1955. He still wanted to pursue the coaching side of baseball. Once Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, he knew that it was only a matter of time until an African-American coach would make it to the major leagues.
Soon, an opportunity of a lifetime presented itself. The Chicago Cubs posted a job for manager. After interviews were held, the franchise knew quickly that O’Neil was the best choice. In 1962, O’Neil broke the color barrier for coaches of Major League Baseball.
John Jordan Buck O’Neil died October 6th, 2006 in Kansas City, Missouri. Before his death, he served on the Hall of Fame veterans committee in Cooperstown. While he is not as widely known as some other stars of the Negro Leagues, O’Neil did as much as anyone to advance the sport of baseball and integrate America’s pastime.