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O’Neil’s presence still felt at ‘Buck’s Place’
Negro Leagues Museum pays tribute to those whose success continued in MLB
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com | 07/08/12 4:02 PM ET
The focus of a new exhibit called “They Were ALL Stars” is shining a light on the players who followed Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby in moving from the Negro Leagues to All-Star recognition in the Major Leagues. The pioneers, Jackie Robinson and the sometimes-overlooked Doby, broke through the doors in 1947 in Brooklyn and Cleveland, respectively.
Among those who can find his younger image on display on handsome placards in the exhibit — right alongside the likes of Hank Aaron and Willie Mays — is George Altman, a three-time All-Star with the Cubs who also unleashed his sweet swing for the Cardinals and Mets.
Altman is 79 but could pass for 49. O’Neil, who signed Lou Brock as a scout and convinced Billy Williams not to quit the game as a Minor Leaguer, had something to do with that, with his familiar mantra: “Always look for the beauty in life.”
Altman was a young man, right out of Tennessee State University and four years of basketball excellence, when he joined the legendary Kansas City Monarchs, managed by O’Neil, in 1955. Among those on the team was the greatest of all African-American pitchers, Leroy “Satchel” Paige.
“Oh, yes, Buck was quite a man,” Altman said, his eyes alive, his smile widening. “He was the best manager I ever played for, and I played for Leo Durocher and Casey Stengel. Buck knew how to inspire you, lift you up to a higher level.
“Buck could be tough. He had that big voice. `Light ’em up!’ he’d said. `You’re better than he is.’ You would run through a wall for Buck. He surpassed anybody I played for.”
O’Neil, a superb glove man at first base with some thunder in his bat, never played in the Major Leagues, but called his autobiography “I Was Right on Time.” He had a way of pushing bitterness away like an insidious disease, no matter how badly he’d been wronged.
The first African-American coach in MLB history with the Cubs in 1962, O’Neil became a member of the team’s creative — if ultimately unsuccessful — “College of Coaches,” a rotating collection of managers from the coaching ranks. Buck had not been asked to take the reins before the experiment was abandoned for good in 1965.
“Everybody got to take over but Buck,” Altman said. “Buck had better credentials, more experience, than any of them. In my opinion, he’d have been one of the best managers in the game if he’d gotten the chance.”
Published on Jun 28, 2012 by sportsandtorts
George Altman went from Wrigley Field to Koshien Stadium in Japan. Hosts Elliott Harris and David Spada look back on the career of the former Cub, who managed to take his game to a whole new level in the Japanese Leagues on Sports & Torts.