Negro Leagues Museum ready to celebrate, share O'Neil's story

July 25th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- Buck O’Neil is a Hall of Famer.

Sunday’s National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony made official what many in baseball have waited for a very long time: O’Neil, the longtime player, manager, scout, steward of the game and now member of the Hall of Fame Class of 2022, took his place among the greats in Cooperstown.

For those at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, the work is now just beginning. They hope to capitalize on their co-founder’s induction by raising awareness for the museum and the Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center, a project that is set to restore the old and historic Paseo YMCA building in Kansas City’s well-known 18th & Vine District.

“We’re all excited because even though he’s not here physically, it doesn’t diminish the accomplishment of being inducted into the Hall of Fame,” Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick said. “He’s now taking his place where he rightfully should be, amongst the immortals of this game. His baseball legacy will be complete.

“Nor does it diminish the platform that it provides for this museum. Had he gotten in in 2006, he wanted to use his Hall of Fame induction to help raise money and awareness for his museum. It is incumbent upon us that we take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity the way Buck would have wanted us to do so. So there’s a lot riding on this induction.”

Kendrick’s team at the museum has been busy preparing for O’Neil’s induction and what it could mean for the museum moving forward, especially bringing in more visitors who want to learn more about the Negro Leagues and its newest Hall of Famer.

“Ever since that announcement that he’ll be inducted, since Dec. 5, the museum has been ushered into what Bob and I refer to just as the next phase of growth,” community engagement manager Kiona Sinks said.

Sinks is in her second year as a full-time employee at the museum and helps Kendrick raise awareness in Kansas City and beyond about the museum and O’Neil’s legacy. She moved to Kansas City in 2018 and started volunteering at the museum, quickly learning of O’Neil’s significance in the baseball world.

“You couldn’t live here in Kansas City and not know who Buck O’Neil was. It’s like not knowing who Ollie Gates is,” Sinks said, referring to the local legend who owns Gates Bar-B-Q in Kansas City. “Those are two, when you talk about Black history, are iconic individuals, Buck O’Neil is on the top-tier list. If you’re Black in Kansas City, you must know who Buck O’Neil is. He’s the reason why we’re able to have this great heart of Kansas City here at the museum.”

When Kendrick and Sinks return from Cooperstown this week, they’ll kick off a celebration at the museum for Kansas Citians to honor O’Neil. One of their new fundraising efforts, called “Thanks a Million, Buck,” will ask O’Neil’s fans to donate $1 -- “one buck” -- each, with the goal of raising $1 million for the museum and research center in his name.

As induction day neared and Kendrick thought about what he would feel like when he sees O’Neil’s plaque for the first time, he couldn’t help but mention O’Neil’s autobiography title: “I Was Right On Time.”

At long last, O’Neil has taken his place in Cooperstown. This could have happened 16 years ago in 2006, but he fell one vote shy. But perhaps being in the Class of 2022 really was right on time for the legendary scout and storyteller who dedicated the last 16 years of his life to keeping the Negro Leagues' stories alive through his museum.

Kendrick certainly thinks so, especially as the museum seeks to unveil “some grand plans” in the coming weeks to celebrate O’Neil.

“I am one that still subscribes to the belief that everything happens for a reason,” Kendrick said. “We don’t always understand or accept what that reason might be. I’m still trying to figure out why that happened at that moment of time. … but here we are coming two years off a pandemic. Having had the 100th anniversary [completely derailed because of COVID-19]. And we get to do it now with a Hall of Fame celebration for the man who built our house.

“It’s very fortuitous in its own right, and hopefully we can take advantage of it.”