tampabay.com

Beloved O'Neil passed over by Hall committee

By MARC TOPKIN
Published February 28, 2006


TAMPA - Buck O'Neil has been a player, a coach, a manager, a scout and a tremendous ambassador during a lifetime in baseball.

But he is not a Hall of Famer.

A special committee formed to evaluate Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues candidates Monday elected the first woman, Effy Manley; an executive with west Tampa roots, Alex Pompez; and 15 others to the Hall.

But not O'Neil, the Sarasota product who was considered the most popular of the 39 candidates.

"Buck O'Neil has been a great credit to baseball," said former commissioner Fay Vincent, nonvoting chairman of the committee, which cast secret ballots. "He's a friend of all of ours. He has credentials that are absolutely wonderful. (But) the committee did not elect Buck O'Neil."

O'Neil told supporters gathered at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City he was not disappointed.

"They didn't think Buck was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame," he said. "That's the way they thought about it and that's the way it is, so we're going to live with that. ... Don't shed any tears 'cause I'm not going to the Hall of Fame."

O'Neil, 94, won two Negro Leagues batting titles, was a successful manager with the Kansas City Monarchs and was the first black coach in the majors, but his more significant contributions have come as one of the game's top ambassadors. That was not enough for him to get nine of 12 votes from a committee that Vincent said had "very high" standards.

O'Neil, who moved to Kansas City to escape the racial prejudices of the South, said he was honored to be considered.

"I couldn't attend Sarasota High School. That hurt. I couldn't attend the University of Florida. That hurt," he said. "But not getting into the Hall of Fame, that ain't going to hurt me much, no."

Pompez was born in Key West but spent formative childhood years in west Tampa and returned for a few years as a young adult, learning to roll cigars and joining La Union Marti Maceo, an Afro-Cuban group in Ybor City, before moving to New York in 1910, said committee member Adrian Burgos, a University of Illinois history professor writing a book on Pompez.

He owned several teams, including the Cuban Stars and NY Cubans, and went on to become a successful talent evaluator in the Giants organization, signing Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal and Willie McCovey among others.

The committee also passed over Minnie Minoso. Executives were unsure if another similar election will be held.

Times staff writer Dave Scheiber contributed to this report, which used information from the Associated Press.