Buck O'Neil Dugout
If you’re not a baseball fan, chances are you aren’t familiar with Sarasota’s Buck O’Neil. He’s legendary, though, for his contributions to the sport. In 2007, President George Bush recognized those contributions by awarding O’Neil a posthumous Presidential Medal of Honor for “helping break down the barriers of racial injustice.”
Born in 1911, O’Neil grew up in Sarasota at a time when racial integration wasn’t even on the horizon. When he was a teenager, the New York Giants did their spring training in Payne Park. O’Neil watched them play from a vantage point in a tree. The bleachers were reserved for white fans. When it was time for high school, O’Neil left Sarasota for Jacksonville to attend one of the four high schools in the state for Black students.
O’Neil’s baseball career began in 1934 when he joined the ranks of Black players who “barnstormed” their way across the country. These exhibition games featured both players from the Negro and Major Leagues and amateurs. Often, Black players faced off against a team of local (read “white”) amateurs and had to walk a fine line in order to not embarrass them.
By 1938 O’Neil had proved himself as the real deal and was signed by the Memphis Red Sox of the newly formed Negro American League. (The Negro National League had been established in 1920.) The following year, O’Neil was traded to the Kansas City Monarchs, a Black team whose prestige was likened to that of the New York Yankees at the time. He played first base and was a respectable hitter. O’Neil became a manager in 1951 while still playing for the team.
O’Neil’s playing days were over by 1956 when he became a scout for the Chicago Cubs. He is credited with recruiting outfielder Lou Brock for the team and is known for his long-time relationship with short stop and first baseman Ernie Banks. In 1962, the Cubs made O’Neil the first Black coach in the Major League. Although the appointment was made more to ensure umpires would allow O’Neil in the dugout than to use him as a true coach, it was a groundbreaking move.
O’Neil’s most significant legacy, though, occurred off the field. O’Neil was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. The Museum opened in 1991 in a one room space as a way to honor American baseball’s unsung heroes. In 1997, thanks to O’Neil’s leadership, the Museum moved to a 10,000 square foot home in a complex known as the Museums at 18th and Vine.
The importance of O’Neil’s contribution to baseball was recognized by filmmaker Ken Burns, who included O’Neil as one of the narrators in Burns’ “Baseball” documentary. O’Neil thereafter found himself on the road once again, this time as an 80-something year-old motivational speaker.
O’Neil finally received his diploma from Sarasota High in 1995 in front of a crowd of 2,000 people. There were cheerleaders and fireworks and cake. It was a fitting celebration for a person who has made Sarasota proud.
To read more about the tradition of barnstorming, go to https://baseballhall.org/discover-more/stories/baseball-history/road-to-equality. And to read about the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, go to https://nlbm.com/.
Luther was born and raised in Michigan, but has been in Florida since 1989. He never went to art school. He learning how to draw by looking, and asking. "I've loved to draw since I was a kid, couldn't afford paints, but always had a pencil, a #2 and a sheet of paper, later color. Color pencils taught me about color blending, now, painting, it all has just transformed. I have to add, Denise Kowal, the Chalk Festival, I love, I've been helped and inspired, to step out of the box. A person, an organization that are truly special to me, and one day we will all prosper because of it. No borders, no boundaries. Lastly, Sarasota, my home for decades, I didn't realize the length and breath of the trials and tribulations for people like me, having grown up in the North. But things are a changing, with folks like Denise, and myself. Lets make the change for the best! The story of black folks in Sarasota, their hard work to build this city, with no recognition, but I felt I would do my part. My part to bring history to the present and the future. Because it took all of us to do so, so lets give credit to where credit is do."
Nanette Crist is a retired lawyer who began blogging when she moved to Florida. It was an online diary of sorts, a way to keep track of her new life. It was also a good way to share her discoveries with friends and family outside the area. Over time, Nanette realized her writing makes her experience the world differently. She keeps an eye out for interesting things to write about and then delves more deeply into them as she crafts her words. It's all about telling the story. Nanette's blog can be found at http://nanettesnewlife.blogspot.com.