Buck group celebrates O'Neil's entry into Hall

December 9th, 2021

Buck O’Neil’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame last weekend was cause for celebration all around the baseball world. For one particular group of men and women, it meant something more.

Since its inception in 2000, the Buck O’Neil Professional Baseball Scouts & Coaches Association (BOPBSCA) has dedicated itself to mentoring, networking and professional development within the game. The news that O’Neil had finally been elected into the Hall was long overdue for the BOPBSCA’s membership, many of whom excitedly exchanged phone calls and texts after the results were announced.

“Jackie Robinson was Jackie Robinson for the players, but Buck O’Neil was Jackie Robinson for us on the baseball side, on the business side, on the baseball operations side,” said association president Steve Williams, the Pirates’ senior director of player personnel. “He opened up so many doors for the rest of us to be able to walk through. He did a lot of different things for a lot of different people.”

A two-time All-Star in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs, O’Neil was a steady, solid player over his 10 seasons, though his playing career did not tell the story of his contributions to the game. O’Neil would go on to be one of the sport’s great ambassadors for nearly 60 years after he finished playing, working within the game he loved up until his death in 2006.

“The character of Buck, just what his name meant, it’s so powerful throughout the game,” said Alvin Rittman, a Marlins pro scout who serves as the association’s treasurer. “His caring personality, how devoted and how committed he was to the game -- he was just such a selfless man.”

O’Neil was a scout for the Cubs from 1955-62, then made history when the Cubs made him the first Black coach in MLB. He returned to scouting two years later, remaining with Chicago until 1988, when he joined the Royals’ scouting department.

In 2000, when the fledgling not-for-profit scouting and coaches association was trying to come up with a name for its organization, there was one name that continuously came up in conversations: O’Neil.

“When we named this group after him, we asked for his blessing,” Williams said. “We didn't know what his response would be, but he jumped up and down and said, ‘I would love for you to name this group after me.’

“We were going to be a scouting and coaching association with a different kind of focus than some others, basically being able to give back to underprivileged communities, being able to teach them to help develop more people within the game. We didn't want to come across as being just a Black man’s organization; that wasn't it. We're a baseball organization. Our focus has always been mentoring young people in the game and mentoring kids in our community.

“We wanted to have a name that wasn't just about black men, but was synonymous with baseball. That was the name we came up with. We didn’t want people to feel they couldn't come in and be a part of this organization; naming it after Buck, that gave us that legitimacy that this is all about everybody in baseball, not just one group.”

A few years later, O’Neil attended the group’s annual conference, an eye-opening experience for a man who had been working for diversity in the game throughout his entire adult life.

“He got a chance to walk into a room and see 50 people that looked like him; brown and Black people that looked just like him,” Williams said. “He was so excited. He said, ‘I didn't know this many brown and Black men and women worked in the game.’ We have just been trying to be the example that he has given us; trying to give back, trying to do the things that he would do. He means a lot to us. He opened so many doors for us. He’s been a godsend for all of us.”

Every Major League club has been represented within the organization at some point during its 21-year history, while guest speakers at its annual conference have included several general managers, Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark.

One of the BOPBSCA’s goals is to promote baseball in inner cities by educating coaches and mentoring players; each year’s conference features a free clinic for local children, one of the highlights of the event.

“You talk about Buck’s legacy, it's undeniable what he accomplished. For us as an association to be able to continue that, [for] each of us take that personally,” Rittman said. “We’re going to do everything within our power to keep pushing Buck’s name, Buck’s legacy and all the positive things that he's done.”