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Baseball Legend Buck O'Neil Dies at 94

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Buck O'Neil, who had recently been hospitalized, released, and readmitted due to "fatigue", died today at 94. He was the perfect example of life being unfair. He was born black in America at a time when blacks weren't allowed to play in the "major leagues", so he played in the Negro Leagues, which many say at the time was the better league.

Buck was so good that even though he was batting .355 against the best black pitchers in the Negro Leagues, the owner named him to be manager of the team, so he had to play and manage, but Buck didn't care. He knew life wasn't fair and he knew it wasn't fair that some people had to work in factories or on farms and there he was "having" to play baseball and "manage" freewheelers like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson.

Because life isn't fair Major League Baseball decided last year to form a committee to vote on 39 Negro League players, coaches, and owners for acceptance into the Hall of Fame. It was a simple yes or no vote for all 39, meaning all 39 could get in if enough people voted yes for each of them.

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17 were voted in, but because life isn't fair Buck O'Neil wasn't one of them, despite being one of the top 10 Negro League players of all time, despite being Major League Baseball's first Black coach, despite being one of the most talented scouts in baseball -- helping the Cubs discover and sign Hall-of-Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, and even Sammy Sosa.

Buck O'Neil ws so intertwined with the Negro Leagues that he helped build the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, where he delivered these words when it was announced that he would not be placed in the Hall.

"God's been good to me, You can see that, can't you? It didn't happen. They didn't think Buck was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. That's the way they thought about it and that's the way it is, so we're going to live with that. Now, if I'm a hall-of-famer for you, that's all right with me. Just keep loving old Buck. "Don't shed any tears 'cause I'm not going to the Hall of Fame.

"You think about this. Here I am, the grandson of a slave. And here the whole world was excited about whether I was going into the Hall of Fame or not. We've come a long ways. Before, we never even thought about anything like that. America, you've really grown and you're still growing."

Former ESPN Sportscenter host Keith Olbermann wrote this in the wake of O'Neil and Minnie Minoso's Hall of Fame dissing:
Snubbing Minoso and O'Neil -- apparently for all time -- is extraordinary enough. But only baseball could make it worse. In honoring the Negro Leagues -- it managed to exclude O'Neill and Minoso -- but did elect two white people. James Leslie Wilkinson was the founder of those Kansas City Monarchs -- Jackie Robinson's team before he broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Wilkinson was a white businessman. And today's election also made a Hall of Famer out of Effa Manley... She was the owner of the Newark Eagles of the Negro American League. It sounds almost impossible to believe -- but she too was white -- married to a black man -- and she pretended to be -- as the term was, then, "passed" -- as a light-skinned black.

Most of the 17 electees yesterday were entirely deserving. Such legendary figures as Sol White and Biz Mackey and Jose Mendez will achieve in death and in the Hall of Fame something they were denied in life. Just to twist the knife a little further into Buck O'Neil, the special committee elected Alex Pompez, owner of the New York Cubans team... Also an organized crime figure... Part of the mob of the infamous '30s gangster Dutch Schultz... Indicted in this country and Mexico for racketeering.

AP photo courtesy of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum