Carter, Smith 'emotional' over O'Neil election

December 6th, 2021

What do Joe Carter and Lee Smith have in common besides playing Major League Baseball? They both were drafted by the Cubs and signed to their first professional contract by longtime Cubs scout Buck O’Neil, who was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Early Baseball Era Committee (pre 1950) on Sunday night.

To say that Carter and Smith were pleased by O’Neil’s election is an understatement. On Sunday, Carter was at the Negro League Baseball Museum for a watch party, awaiting the results of the vote. Obviously, he wanted to celebrate with NLBM president Bob Kendrick, another one of O’Neil’s apprentices.

“It was a tear-jerking, emotional time with all of us in Kansas City,” Carter said. “I could not be happier than right now. [When MLB Network] announced that Buck O’Neil was in the Hall of Fame, it was just a tremendous honor. … His career speaks for itself.”

The 2022 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will take place on July 24 in Cooperstown. This year’s ballot was released by the BBWAA on Nov. 22, and voters have until Dec. 31 to submit their ballots. Election results will be announced live on MLB Network on Jan. 25, 2022.

Smith, a Hall of Famer himself, received word from about O’Neil’s entry into Cooperstown. He said the honor for O’Neil was a long time coming.

“Buck should have been in there a long time ago,” Smith said. “The things that he did off the field -- he was a humanitarian for all walks of life. I hope that his legacy gets more acknowledgment so younger kids can understand what he meant to the game of baseball.”

O’Neil, who died in 2006 at age 94, taught Carter and Smith about the game of life, as well as the game of baseball. O’Neil’s positive attitude was legendary and infectious -- his life’s calling -- and only the passing of his wife, Ora, from cancer in 1997, challenged that outlook.

Despite the racial tensions of his day, O’Neil had no negative thoughts of the game he loved so dearly, even though he was never allowed to play Major League Baseball because of his skin color. He often said, “I was right on time” when he played professional baseball, mostly with the Kansas City Monarchs.

“The thing he used say was, ‘People are going to remember the bad things,’” Smith said. “With that first impression, you make sure you go out there and represent yourself. ‘If you don’t have respect for yourself, you don’t have respect for anyone else.’ It was the simple things in life.”

Said Carter, “When you got through being around Buck, you just felt so much better when you left.”

Carter is proud of the fact that his skills on the baseball field made O’Neil look like a genius. A glance at Carter’s career cements why O’Neil was considered an excellent baseball scout. Carter was one of the best sluggers in the game from 1983-98. His claim to fame was becoming one of two Major Leaguers (Bill Mazeroski was the other) to end a World Series with a walk-off home run. Carter’s ninth-inning dinger in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series off left-hander Mitch Williams gave the Blue Jays their second consecutive World Series title.

A few weeks after the game-winner, Carter’s hometown of Leawood, Kansas, threw a parade in his honor. To Carter’s surprise, O’Neil was in attendance and told his protégé how proud he was.

“It’s the people that put a lot of confidence in you,” Carter said. “One thing Buck said to me was, ‘Young man. You have a lot of talent. You go out there and have fun playing the game. You enjoy the game. ... I played every game just like that.’ When I saw him in Kansas City, it brought a smile to my face.”