O’Neil could not play Major League Baseball because of racial segregation, but he was a star for the Kansas City Monarchs. He was the first African American to coach a Major League baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, and worked as a talent scout for the Kansas City Royals. He was the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City when he died in 2006.
The power to choose who goes into the Hall is reserved for the Speaker of the House. Speaker Steven Tilley (R-Perryville) says O’Neil was, “a guy that really broke barriers … It’s long overdue and I look forward to having the opportunity to recognize him.”
Representative Michael Brown (D-Kansas City) has worked with Tilley and the Legislative Black Caucus to organize the induction. Brown got to know O’Neil when they worked together at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. “He could have been a great athelete in his own right and a great coach, but instead he recruited great players like Frank White and Lou Brock … and he was happy to see their success. I think he was able to really be happy for other people and their success.”
Brown says O’Neil would have been humbled by the induction. “He would have accepted it. I don’t know if he would have thought he was worthy for this type of recognition.” Brown thinks he was, though. “He deserves this, and we’re happy to see it done.”
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That the induction will happen in February is also significant to Brown. “Not just because it’s Black History month … we were able to get the Black Caucus on board and the Speaker’s office and senators, and this is just cutting across all of our political boundaries. Republican and Democrat, youth versus old … every kind of person has gravitated to this.”
Brown says enough money was raised that two busts of O’Neil have been made. One will be unveiled in the ceremony Monday. The second will go to Kansas City, either to the Royals organization or the museum.
Monday’s ceremony begins at 5:00 in the Third Floor Rotunda in the Capital.
AUDIO: Mike Lear interviews Representative Michael Brown, 6:57
AUDIO: Mike Lear reports, 1:02