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How KC will remember Buck O’Neil on his 109th birthday on Friday

Buck O'Neil
Buck O'Neil
Struggling Negro Leagues Museum Baseball
Buck O'Neil
Buck O'Neil
Buck O'Neil
Posted at 5:53 PM, Nov 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-13 12:36:58-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — From a streetcar wrapped in a design modeled from his Negro Leagues team to a conversation among sports legends, there will be several events Friday across Kansas City, Missouri, dedicated to celebrating Buck O’Neil’s 109th birthday.

O’Neil, who died in 2006, played for and managed the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. He spent most of his adult life in Kansas City, where he became a national icon and civic treasure after starring in Ken Burns' 1994 documentary "Baseball."

Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, said O’Neil helped make the museum a reality and was its greatest ambassador.

“He (O'Neil) was so proud of, not only what he had done being a part of this league, but what they had all done to play the game they love and then understood their passion for the game not only changed the sport, it changed our country for the better,” Kendrick said. “He wanted his story and their story to be told, and he wanted people to draw hope and inspiration from what they had done.”

KC Streetcar will unveil a new graphic design on one of its streetcars at 11 a.m. on Friday, which will feature a heart with the initials "KC." It is similar to the 1942 Monarchs logo, which the club wore when O’Neil helped the storied franchise win the Negro Leagues World Series.

The graphic also will feature pinstripes from those uniforms and other nods to the Negro Leagues, which is celebrating its centennial in 2020.

RideKC also plans to unveil a “barnstorming bus” and a fleet of bicycles with Negro Leagues themes in an event streamed live on Facebook.

“As the late, great Buck O’Neil would say when he joined the Kansas City Monarchs in 1938, ‘I knew I was coming to the heart of America, but I never knew I was coming to the center of the universe,'" Kendrick said. "That’s the way KC was for Buck O’Neil, and particularly 18th and Vine, where he hung out when 18th and Vine was really 18th and Vine."

Famed sports commentator Bob Costas will moderate a discussion about O’Neil with Kendrick, Burns and sportswriter Joe Posnanski later Friday. The virtual event will live-streamed on the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s Facebook page at 12:30 p.m.

Kendrick said the first 109 people to visit the museum Saturday will receive a free commemorative KC heart pin.

Friday also has been declared Buck O'Neil Day in KCMO by proclamation.