Royals legend Frank White was about 20, a freshly minted member of the new Royals Academy, when then-Cubs scout Buck O’Neil approached him for the first time. Some 40 years later, that meeting has led to White earning an annual award in O’Neil’s honor.
White and civic leader Randall Ferguson, Jr. were named this week as recipients of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s 2017 Buck O’Neil Legacy Award.
O’Neil and White found common ground outside the infield dirt of the complex Ewing Kauffman built in Florida. White had spent his summers in the 1950s and 60s with his grandparents in Mississippi, picking cotton and peanuts. And O’Neil, who was nearly 30 years older, had experienced a similar upbringing in Sarasota, Fla., where he picked strawberries and cucumbers to help out his family.
“The jobs nobody wanted to do,” joked White, who serves as Jackson County Executive.
The conversation put down roots for a friendship that flourished over the decades, as O’Neil’s plentiful legacy in Kansas City entwined with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and White’s coiled around the ascendance of a major-league franchise.
O’Neil and White worked together and with others to bring the first incarnation of the museum to life in 1990. They would all take turns paying rent for a one-room office in the Lincoln Building on 18th and Vine, White said, until the museum could move into its own space.
It was that time he spent with O’Neil decades after their first encounter, campaigning with him to get Negro Leagues players into the Baseball Hall of Fame, that still resonates with White 11 years after O’Neil’s death.
“You think about all the guys that he was able to help get into the Hall of Fame,” White said. “And when it became his turn, only one vote kept him out. I talked to him afterward, and I can’t say what his feelings were behind closed doors, but his optimism was just unbelievable. Where most people would be totally devastated, he looked at it the other way: ‘Look how many people I helped.’ It definitely spoke volumes to me.”
Members of the community who show “outstanding support” for the museum, run by president Bob Kendrick, are chosen annually for the Buck O’Neil Award, which will be presented across the street from the museum at the Gem Theater on Nov. 11.
“These are the kind of things I really want to be remembered for, in being able to give back to the community in so many different ways, and this is one of them,” White said. “I’m very humbled by it. ... I’m trying to do things to improve the quality of life for people and this is a tremendous honor for me.”
In addition to the presentation of the O’Neil Legacy Awards, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum will host the inaugural “Rock the Vine” Fashion Show, a Buck O’Neil 2.2-mile Walk and 5K Run and a “Sax in the City” concert featuring Gerald Albright and Selina Albright
For tickets or more information, call the NLBM at (816) 221-1920 or visit www.nlbm.com.