WASHINGTON - Buck O'Neil, who spent a joyous lifetime ensuring that the Negro Leagues would always be remembered, was celebrated at the White House Friday as a baseball legend who made America a better place.
"A beautiful human being," said President Bush as he posthumously bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, on O'Neil. Nine others also received the medals at a festive East Room ceremony.
O'Neil, who spent 16 years playing in the Negro Leagues, mostly for the Kansas City Monarchs, and was Major League Baseball's first black coach, died in October at age 94. His brother Warren O'Neil - also a Negro Leagues veteran - accepted on his behalf.
The indomitable spirit that carried O'Neil on his journey from laborer in the celery fields of Florida to baseball icon filled the ornate room as Bush recounted O'Neil's athleticism and grace, saying, "He never did slow down" after his Negro Leagues playing career ended...
The medal capped a bittersweet year. A special election committee charged with naming key Negro Leagues figures to the Hall of Fame left out O'Neil when it voted in February.
If the snub hurt, he never showed it: O'Neil attended last summer's Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in his accustomed role as a cheerful ambassador of the Negro Leagues.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
This is great for the family of Buck O'Neil. But why is it that this kind of recognition so often occurs posthumously?