June 14, 1990

June 14, 1990

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (UPI) -- Former Negro League manager Buck O'Neill, among those honored Tuesday by the Baseball Hall of Fame, believes that while black players from the segregated era deserve more recognition, their life was better than most think.

O'Neill, manager of the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League from 1938 to 1950, was one of nine Negro League veterans who accompanied home-run king Hank Aaron to Cooperstown to present a videotape of last June's reunion of 80 former members of the all-black leagues. The presentation was part of the Negro League Baseball Players Day, being commemorated around the nation.

Among the players O'Neill managed at Kansas City was a stocky, 26-year-old shortstop named Jackie Robinson, who in 1947 would break the color barrier in professional baseball by becoming the first black man to sign with a major-league organization since 1898. That was the year black players were barred from the major leagues by a ``gentleman's agreement'' among owners.

Standing near plaques of Aaron, who hit 755 home runs in 23 years in the majors, and James ``Cool Papa'' Bell, who was said to be so fast he could turn off a light and be in bed before the room got dark, O'Neill said playing in the Negro Leagues was not the ordeal many today think it was. ``It wasn't as bad as people think,'' he said. ``The worst part was the segregation. ``I didn't make much money, but I made more than the principal of the high school, and more than my father made at the post office. Of course, that was for playing all year.''

O'Neill said many teams, including the Monarchs, were ``first-class all the way.'' Negro League teams often played exhibition games against white all-star teams in the offseason. But O'Neill said the games meant more to the black teams. ``To tell you the truth, we won most of the games,'' he said. ``It wasn't that we were better. But they were major-leaguers just looking for a paycheck. We were out to prove to the world that we were just as good, or better.'' O'Neill said: ``Don't shed a tear for these guys. They all made a living. They all played with the greatest professional black athletes in the world. ``Everybody here is over 70. Look at us. Something must have gone right.''