In troubled times, hope renews that Buck O’Neil could at long last join Hall of Fame

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To appreciate a potential shimmering light ahead, let’s start with a baseline point of contrast:

This week in the sad parade of events postponed or canceled amid the scourge of the COVD-19 coronavirus pandemic, another phase of the 100th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Negro Leagues has been shelved — a commemoration of the first game in Negro National League history in Indianapolis, where the Indianapolis ABCs played the Chicago American Giants on May 2, 1920.

Perhaps most movingly, the Saturday ceremony was to feature a tribute to the great Oscar Charleston that included replacing his nondescript gravestone with what Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick called a “proper and more fitting headstone” of marble.

Like so many Negro Leagues players, Kendrick said, Charleston toiled in relative anonymity and shouldn’t also be “buried in anonymity.”

Like so much of what had been planned, Kendrick considers this too special and important to allow it to be what he called “watered down.”

So it will be reset for a still-undetermined appropriate time as the NLBM basically recalibrates all of what it set out to do this year.

“So, we’re already thinking about how much of this will carry over into 2021 and (becoming) essentially ‘Negro Leagues 101,’” he said.

But that’s a course that feasibly could include something utterly remarkable: the induction at last of Buck O’Neil into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Having suffered the acute heartache absorbed by many when O’Neil unfathomably was snubbed in 2006, Kendrick knows by now not to take anything for granted and even to gird himself for disappointment.

But he also has taken a certain comfort in the understanding that O’Neil’s name has been discussed by the Hall of Fame’s “Eras committee” — most likely under the “Early Baseball” (prior to 1950) division … even though O’Neil defies categories and in a sense bestrides them all.

Thus he will be considered as the group refines its discussion along the way to creating ballots of 10 names (one for Early Baseball and another for the Golden Days, after 1950).

With no disruption on account of the pandemic, something that can’t be assured, the ballot would likely be set by early fall in time for voting by the 16-member committee at the Winter Meetings, tentatively scheduled for December in Dallas.

According to the Hall of Fame website, a quorum will consist of three-fourths of the total membership of the committee. In the absence of a quorum, it adds, a conference call with absent committee members will be permitted.

Under current guidelines, anyway, it will be 10 years before that committee meets again.

Meanwhile, under current conditions, Kendrick figures a pro-O’Neil result would have nearly as much meaning now as it would have in 2006.

For one thing, consider the bleakness of the landscape today.

For another, consider how O’Neil even further touched his fans by how he handled the aftermath when he wasn’t elected.

“I would not want to be premature,” Kendrick said, “but there would be this cascade of emotions.”

Even noting he has to prepare himself mentally for another letdown, Kendrick also feels compelled to believe in the chance of finally getting it right … years after even Kendrick had convinced himself that the creation in 2008 of the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award and accompanying life-sized statue at the Hall of Fame was as good as it could get.

“But his fans have remained vigilant,” Kendrick said, later adding, “If this happens, I think that they would feel somewhat vindicated that their voice has been heard.”

All befitting of the very spirit of the Negro Leagues, the museum itself and the calling Kendrick understands in carrying out a job that so honors the legacy of O’Neil.

“Ol’ Buck always seemingly found a way to bring joy out of despair,” he said. “So even in what has been one of the most difficult, darkest times for not only the museum but everybody dealing with COVID-19, (O’Neil still is providing) cause for hope”

So, yes, Kendrick thinks of this even as he regrets having to scuttle the museum’s annual Hall of Game ceremony and Heart of America Hot Dog Festival.

He looks to this even as he laments the deferral of what he had figured would be a “magical day of recognition” on June 27 when every Major League Baseball team was to wear a Negro Leagues patch in what Kendrick terms a national tip of the cap to the Negro Leagues.

Not that he’s forecasting any guesses about when MLB will resume.

“I don’t know how this is going to impact that national day, but what I do know is we don’t want this (Negro Leagues day) to occur with fans not in the stadium,” he said.

Like so many other events, including the homage to Charleston that we’re missing this weekend, Kendrick hopes MLB’s salute to the Negro Leagues can be rescheduled for 2021.

And perhaps punctuated then with something that would not only help salvage the delay but make the celebration all the more uplifting if the stars should thus align for O’Neil … and something proper and fitting in its own right.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Kendrick said. “Now we’ll see what happens.”


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