I know next to nothing about baseball (sorry, y’all; it’s not my ministry), but I do know this: The trailblazing athletes who played in the Negro Leagues back when segregation was still very much a thing deserve every single one of their flowers; for not only what they endured, but for what they accomplished—despite the circumstances—on the field.
That being said, CNN reports that Buck O’Neil, who played 10 seasons with the Memphis Red Sox and Kansas City Monarchs before going on to serve as a scout for the Chicago Cubs and also become the first Black coach in the history of Major League Baseball; and Bud Fowler, who’s recognized as the first Black professional baseball player; received their long-overdue flowers this weekend when they were elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday.
They were two of seven Negro League and pre-Negro League players who were being considered Sunday for induction into the Hall of Fame. O’Neil and Fowler join four other candidates—Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso and Tony Oliva—as part of the Hall of Fame Class of 2022.
The Washington Post notes that while O’Neil did the damn thing in the Negro Leagues from 1937 to 1955, it was the subsequent decades that followed in which the Carrabelle, Fla. native, truly left an indelible mark on America’s favorite pastime:
He was a pivotal figure in the creation of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., where he starred with the Monarchs, and served as its board chairman. With vivid tales from his playing days, O’Neil also made an indelible impression on countless younger fans through regular appearances on talk shows and, perhaps most notably, in the 1994 Ken Burns documentary “Baseball.”
On Twitter, Burns was one of countless people who used the platform to congratulate O’Neil and Fowler on such an amazing accomplishment.
“I’m near tears,” he tweeted. “Buck O’Neil is one of the greatest people I have met on this planet. I’m just so happy and pleased and know that somewhere Buck is already in an even bigger Hall of Fame.”
Prior to his passing in 2006 at the age of 94, O’Neil championed the tremendous courage and sacrifice of the other Negro League players who were inducted into the Hall posthumously.
“I’ve done a lot of things I liked doing,” O’Neil said during the ceremony. “But I’d rather be right here, right now, representing these people that helped build a bridge across the chasm of prejudice.”
In 2008, O’Neil was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. Fowler, who played both pitcher and second base for various teams in more than a dozen leagues, died in 1913 at the age of 54.
The induction ceremony will take place in Cooperstown, N.Y, on July 24, 2022.