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Buck O'Neil honored with lifetime achievement award

10/25/2007 - MLB

Associated PressBOSTON -- Buck O'Neil got his spot in the Hall of Fame with
a Lifetime Achievement Award created in his memory.

One of the game's most beloved ambassadors, O'Neil was
posthumously honored Wednesday by the Hall before the World Series
opener between Colorado and Boston.

"His impact on the game has been enormous," commissioner Bud
Selig said. "He's now in Cooperstown where he belongs."

O'Neil, a Negro Leagues star and the first black coach in the
majors, fell two votes shy of induction to the Hall of Fame during
a special election in February 2006.

Many fans were stunned. They were sure he'd finally be rewarded
for a lifetime of service and dedication to baseball, not to
mention his standout career as a Negro Leagues player.

Months after missing out, O'Neil died at age 94.

Now, a statue of O'Neil will be placed inside the museum, and
the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to a
worthy recipient no more than every three years.

"I don't think this is necessarily trying to right a wrong. I
think we're just trying to honor a person," said former Cincinnati Reds star Joe Morgan, vice chairman of the Hall of Fame.

"There are a lot of people who are not elected to the Hall of
Fame that the public, myself included, think should be in. It
doesn't mean that we should try to go out and fix something," he said.

An astute spokesman for the Negro Leagues with a
light-up-the-room smile, O'Neil gained worldwide fame in 1994 after
historian Ken Burns featured him in the documentary "Baseball."

O'Neil was the driving force behind the creation of the Negro
Leagues Baseball Museum and a powerful voice in getting other Negro
Leaguers elected to the Hall. Most had been denied a chance to play
in the majors before Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier
in 1947.

More Negro Leagues players and pre-Negro League figures were
inducted in a comprehensive, one-time election last year. O'Neil
wasn't among the 16 men and one woman selected.

Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey reiterated Wednesday that
it was a one-time only election, leaving O'Neil no avenue for
induction.

"I think we are going to stand by our word," Petroskey said. "We believe now that all the Negro Leaguers who are deserving of a
plaque on the wall are in Cooperstown."

But the Hall of Fame board appointed a committee to examine ways
to honor O'Niel's legacy. The committee included Selig, Morgan,
former commissioner Fay Vincent and broadcaster Bob Costas, among
others.

A Lifetime Achievement Award named after O'Neil is what they
came up with.

"That was the goal of this committee, to do the most meaningful
thing that we could do," Selig said.

Morgan, for one, thinks it's significant.

"In some ways it's going to even be bigger than getting a
plaque in the Hall of Fame because your name is going to come up
more frequently as we present the award," he said. "As we African-
Americans who have played owe a debt to Jackie Robinson for what he
did, I think the Negro League players owe a debt to Buck O'Neil for
keeping their legacy alive."

Folks at the Negro Leagues Museum were thrilled about the award.

"This is a great night for the museum and a great night for
baseball. Fans will be vindicated that their voices were heard and
Buck is taking his rightful place in Cooperstown," said Bob
Kendrick, director of marketing for the Negro Leagues Museum.

The statue of O'Neil will be dedicated during Hall of Fame
weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y., next July. It will be accompanied by
two plaques, one educating visitors about O'Neil and the other
listing the recipients of the award.

"This award will provide the lasting legacy that he deserves,"
said Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the Hall of Fame.