Friday, December 6, 2021
Statement on the induction of Bud Fowler and Buck O’Neil into the National Baseball Hall of Fame
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center celebrates the induction of Bud Fowler and Buck O’Neil into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. This honor recognizes their contributions on the diamond and to the game of baseball, removing the asterisk of race from their resumes. These men are now what their teammates and opponents always knew them to be: major league hall of famers.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame should be more than just a gallery of privilege and excellence. With the induction of Fowler and O’Neil – with more rightfully to come – it is beginning to tell the more complete and inclusive story of baseball, scars and all, and bringing to light more of those individuals who shaped the game we know and love.
Baseball has long been called America’s pastime, but for generations, it remained segregated like the nation who loved it. Great Black players were relegated to the Negro Leagues, playing out as gladiators for the entertainment of fans who would never accept them in their restaurants or hotels. People cheered them for the number on their jerseys while hating them for the color of their skin.
But on the field, between the chalk lines of the baseball diamond, Fowler, O’Neil and countless others showcased talent that transcended race. Now, more than 74 years after Jackie Roosevelt Robinson took the field and became the first African American to break the color line and play in major league baseball in the modern era, the game of baseball is recognizing those who paved the way; those whose strength, speed and talent dazzled on the field and whose resilience inspired communities off it.
Fowler was widely acknowledged as the first Black professional baseball player. He played ten seasons of organized baseball in over a dozen leagues, often with integrated teams. He’ll now be enshrined among the greatest players of all time in Cooperstown, New York, the same town where he learned to play baseball.
O’Neil slugged a career .258 average for the Memphis Red Sox and Kansas City Monarchs over 10 seasons. In 1955, he became a scout for the Chicago Cubs and, in 1962, was named to their coaching staff, becoming the first Black coach in Major League Baseball. He was instrumental in the founding of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.
We celebrate Fowler and O’Neil, and the thousands of other Black ballplayers who never got the opportunity to showcase their talent on a level playing field. In the coming years, we expect, and we hope, to see even more Negro League players rightfully enshrined alongside their fellow athletes in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Woodrow Keown, Jr.
President & COO
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center