July 18, 2006

Tuesday July 18, 2006

John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil, 94, became the oldest pro baseball player when he went to bat in the Northern League All-Star Game in Kansas City, Kan., on Tuesday night.

The Kansas City T-Bones signed O’Neil, a lifetime. 288 hitter and twotime Negro League batting champion, to a one-day contract.

“This is special, very special,” O’Neil said. “I’ve been in baseball 70 years. This is how I made my living. And here I am at 94 with a bat in my hand.”

Leading off for the West in the top of the first inning, O’Neil argued with the umpire after the first pitch sailed high and was called a ball. After another high pitch that narrowly missed his head, O’Neil took a called strike before being walked, as planned.

O’Neil ambled to first base, then took a lead off the bag as if he were going to stay in the game before being pulled for a pinch runner.

After the top of the inning, T-Bones owner John Ehlert announced that a trade had been brokered to bring O’Neil to the T-Bones, allowing him to also lead off the bottom of the inning.

In his second at-bat, O’Neil took three balls — all of them high and greeted with a chorus of boos from the crowd — before swinging at a pitch and almost spinning off his feet. The umpire gave him two more balls before sending him to first base with his second walk of the night.

Clad in a red-and-white Kansas City Monarchs jersey, O’Neil said he thought the last time he had swung a bat in a game was in 1955.

Asked if he remembered who he was facing in that last at-bat, he replied: “I don’t remember yesterday and you ask me who the pitcher was in 1955 ?”

O’Neil surpassed Jim Eriotes, 83, who struck out in a minor league game in South Dakota this month, as the oldest man to play professional baseball.