Fort Plain native Bud Fowler among 6 players elected to baseball Hall of Fame

Ben Walker
The Associated Press
John "Buck" O'Neill, the first basemen from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Old Negro Leagues who was a focal point of Ken Burns' "Baseball" documentary, throws out a ceremonial first pitch at McCormick Field on July 7, 1996.

Buck O’Neil, a champion of Black ballplayers during a monumental, eight-decade career on and off the field, joined Bud Fowler, who was born in Fort Plain and played professionally before the color barrier, Gil Hodges, Minnie Miñoso, and two others in being elected to the baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday.

Former Minnesota Twins teammates Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat also were chosen by a pair of veterans committees.

Oliva and Kaat, both 83 years old, are the only living new members. Longtime slugger Dick Allen, who died last December, fell one vote shy of election.

The six newcomers will be enshrined in Cooperstown, New York, on July 24, 2022, along with any new members elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. First-time candidates David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez join Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling on the ballot, with voting results on Jan. 25.

Passed over in previous Hall elections, the new members reflect a diversity of accomplishments.

This was the first time O’Neil, Miñoso and Fowler had a chance to make the Hall under new rules honoring Negro League contributions. Last December, the statistics of some 3,400 players were added to Major League Baseball’s record books when MLB said it was “correcting a longtime oversight in the game’s history” and reclassifying the Negro Leagues as a major league.

“Jubilation,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, that O’Neil helped create, after the voting results were announced.

Baseball’s stolen legacy:The fascinating story of the Negro Leagues and the man keeping the history alive

Buck O'Neil was a remarkable ambassador for baseball

An exhibit at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Otsego County, shows a statue of John "Buck" O'Neil, who was a first baseman and manager in the Negro league, mostly with the Kansas City Monarchs. He later became the first Black person to coach a Major League team.

O’Neil was a two-time All-Star first baseman in the Negro Leagues and the first Black coach in the National or American leagues. He became a remarkable ambassador for the sport until his death in 2006 at 94 and already is honored with a life-sized statue inside the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

For all O’Neil did for the game his entire life, many casual fans weren’t entirely familiar with him until they watched the nine-part Ken Burns documentary “Baseball,” which first aired on PBS in 1994.

Opinion:Buck O'Neil is finally a Hall of Famer. That it took so long is another racist stain on baseball.

There, O’Neil’s grace, wit and vivid storytelling brought back to life the times of Negro Leagues stars Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell, plus the days of many more Black ballplayers whose names were long forgotten.

Kendrick said it was too bad O’Neil won’t be in Cooperstown for the induction ceremonies next July 22, “but you know his spirit is going to fill the valley,” he said on MLB Network.

Bud Fowler induction will be a homecoming

Bud Fowler as he appeared for the Keokuk, Iowa, Western League baseball team of 1885.

Fowler, born in 1858, is often regarded as the first Black professional baseball player. The pitcher and second baseman helped create the popular Page Fence Giants barnstorming team.

Induction will be a homecoming of sorts for Fowler’s memory. He spent his childhood in Cooperstown before joining his first professional team when he was 14 years old, and the village renamed a street Bud Fowler Way at the entrance to Doubleday Field in 2013. His baseball-playing journey included stops around the country and the color of his skin was often an issue.

More:Fort Plain native Bud Fowler honored by Society for American Baseball Research

Fowler’s playing career included stops in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Canada. He batted .350 in 34 games with Binghamton’s International League team in 1887 before a June incident involving white teammates refusing to play with Fowler and Black teammate William Renfro, and asking to be released. After nine players signed a petition threatening to quit if the Black players were not released, SABR reports Fowler asked for his release and was granted one June 30 provided he would not sign with another team in the league.

Bud Fowler's gravestone in the Oak View Cemetery in Frankfort, New York. Pictured bottom right is a program from the stone's 1987 dedication ceremony. Photo taken Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020.

The International League banned the signing of additional African-American players on July 14, 1887.

Fowler was buried in Frankfort’s Oak Hill Cemetery following his death in 1913. His gravesite went unmarked until the Society for American Baseball Research erected a headstone in 1987. SABR recognized Fowler as its annual Overlooked 19th Century Legend for 2020.

Bill Dahlen, a Nelliston native and previous winner of SABR’s 19th century honor, fell short for a second time in Sunday’s voting. Dahlen was previously two votes short in 2012.

Orestes 'Minnie' Miñoso was 'The Cuban Comet'

Orestes "Minnie" Minoso, shown in 1976, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Dec. 5, 2021.

Miñoso was a two-time All-Star in the Negro Leagues before becoming the first Black player for the Chicago White Sox in 1951. Born in Havana, “The Cuban Comet” was a seven-time All-Star while with the White Sox and Indians.

There was nothing mini about Saturnino Orestes Armas Miñoso on the field. He hit over .300 eight times with Cleveland and Chicago, led the AL in stolen bases three times, reached double digits in home runs most every season and won three Gold Gloves in left field.

More:Minnie Miñoso's legacy lives on as 'Jackie Robinson' of Black Latino players

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Miñoso finished up, or so it seemed, in 1964. He came back at age 50 for the White Sox in 1976 — going 1 for 8 — and batted twice in 1980, giving him five decades of playing pro ball.

The White Sox retired his No. 9 in 1983 and he remained close to the organization and its players before his death in 2015.

Gil Hodges was part of 'The Boys of Summer' and 'Miracle Mets'

New York Mets' Gil Hodges in March 1963. Hodges was elected to Baseball's Hall of Fame on Dec. 5, 2021.

Hodges became the latest Brooklyn Dodgers star from “The Boys of Summer” to reach the Hall, joining Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella and Pee Wee Reese.

An eight-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glover at first base, Hodges enhanced his legacy when he managed the 1969 “Miracle Mets” to the World Series championship, a startling five-game win over heavily favored Baltimore.

Hodges was still the Mets’ manager when he suffered a heart attack during spring training in 1972 and died at 47.

Tony Oliva nd Jim Kaat played with the Twins

From left, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Bob Allison of the Minnesota Twins celebrate after Game 2 of the 1965 World Series. Oliva and Kaat have been elected to the baseball Hall of Fame.

Oliva was a three-time AL batting champion with the Twins whose career was cut short by knee problems.

Kaat was 283-237 in 25 seasons and a 16-time Gold Glove winner.

How the players were selected

O’Neil and Fowler were selected by the Early Days committee. Hodges, Miñoso, Oliva and Kaat were chosen the by the Golden Days committees.

The 16-member panels met separately in Orlando, Florida. The election announcement was originally scheduled to coincide with the big league winter meetings, which were nixed because of the MLB lockout.

It took 12 votes (75%) for selection: Miñoso drew 14, O’Neil got 13 and Hodges, Oliva, Kaat and Fowler each had 12. Allen had 11.

Buck O'Neil's impact on baseball is still visible today

O’Neil played 10 years in the Negro Leagues and helped the Kansas City Monarchs win championships as a player and manager. His numbers were hardly gaudy — a .258 career batting average, nine home runs.

But what John Jordan O’Neil Jr. meant to baseball can never be measured by numbers alone.

O’Neil became the first Black coach in American League or National League history with the Chicago Cubs and enjoyed a prolific career as a scout.

His impact is visible to this day.

Along with his statue in Cooperstown, the Hall’s board of directors periodically present the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award to a person whose “whose extraordinary efforts enhanced baseball’s positive impact on society … and whose character, integrity and dignity” mirror those shown by O’Neil.

Buck O'Neil walks to the field as he is introduced before a minor league all-star game in 2006, in Kansas City, Kansas. O'Neil, a champion of Black ballplayers during a monumental, eight-decade career on and off the field, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Dec. 5, 2021.

In 2006, it appeared O’Neil would get to soak in the praise earned for his work when the Special Committee on Negro Leagues convened to study candidates for the Hall of Fame. The panel indeed elected 17 new members but O’Neil was not among them, narrowly missing out.

O’Neil was chosen to speak on behalf of those 17 newcomers, all deceased, on induction day at Cooperstown. True to his nature, he didn’t emit a single word of remorse and regret about his own fate of being left out.

Two months later, O’Neil died in Kansas City.

Jon Rathbun, a sportswriter for the Times Telegram, contributed to this story. Email Jon at