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YouTube Gold: Buck O’Neil On Ty Cobb’s Racism

What a forgiving man he was.

John Jordan “Buck’ O’Neil stands in the Chicago Cubs dugout in an undated photo.
Chicago Tribune historical photo/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

When Ken Burns released his epic 1994 documentary on baseball, no one really outshone John “Buck” O’Neil.

A native of Florida, O’Neil was born in Carrabelle, Florida, in 1911. He started playing baseball when he was 12, which would be just a few years after the Black Sox scandal.

Given the era he played in, O’Neil was not allowed in Major League Baseball and played instead in the Negro Leagues. His first team was the Memphis Red Sox and he also played for the Kansas City Monarchs before and after serving in World War II. O’Neil retired in 1948, just a year after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

You could reasonably expect him to have been bitter but O’Neil was one of the most serene souls to ever walk the earth.

In this interview, he is asked about Ty Cobb, who, his interviewer says, hated Black people.

O’Neil corrects her, saying that Cobb hated everybody and reminding her that he had had a great trauma in his life when his mother killed his father (he thought she was having an affair and came home to catch her in the act. Instead, he caught a bullet from Mrs. Cobb, who was not entertaining another man as her husband suspected).

He then goes on to explain what he hated: he hated cancer, he hated AIDS, he hated 9/11, he hated what the Klan did and what skinheads did. But he said he can’t hate another human being because “that’s God’s creature and God never made anything ugly. You can get ugly if you wanna, and a lot of people did, but God didn't make you that way...somebody had to teach Ty Cobb to be prejudiced. No baby’s prejudiced! You teach these things and actually...I feel sorry the guy who hates me because I’m black...poor fella. It doesn’t hurt me. It hurts him.”

He was and remains one of the most eloquent people not just in baseball but in American culture.