Buck O’Neil’s 109th Birthday Gift Came ‘Wrapped with Heart’

  • Buck O’Neil’s 109th Birthday Gift Came ‘Wrapped with Heart’
    Buck O’Neil’s 109th Birthday Gift Came ‘Wrapped with Heart’

For the superstitious, Friday the 13th has long been a day of trepidation. But there was nothing “bad luck” about Friday, Nov. 13, 2020 as civic and business leaders gathered at Union Station for a special 109th birthday celebration in honor of baseball legend, John “Buck” O’Neil, and to collectively “tip their caps” in recognition of the 100th Anniversary of the Negro Leagues.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) teamed with KC Streetcar and RideKC to launch the “Wrapped with Heart” campaign that resulted in an O’Neil-inspired Kansas City Monarchs Streetcar and Streetcar Stop, a Monarchs Barnstorming RideKC Bus, and a fleet of Negro Leagues Baseball bicycles.

Special guests included Frank White Jr., Jackson County Executive; KCMO Mayor Quinton Lucas; KCMO 3rd District Councilmembers Melissa Robinson and Brandon Ellington; Robbie Makinen, CEO of the KC Area Transportation Authority and Tom Gerend, Executive Director of the KC Streetcar Authority. “I have to “tip my cap” to the amazing team at RideKC and their family of transit companies for this visually stunning tribute to Buck O’Neil and their recognition of the 100th Anniversary of the Negro Leagues,” said Bob Kendrick, NLBM president.

“The Covid-19 pandemic had derailed so many of the museum’s Centennial Celebration plans and we knew we wouldn’t be able to conduct our traditional Buck O’Neil Birthday Bash. This, however, was as memorable birthday gift as we could have ever imagined,” Kendrick said.

For nearly a decade, O’Neil, used his birthday to raise money and awareness in support of the NLBM. His generosity resulted in more than $1 million generated for the museum he co-founded in 1990 and served as its Chairman of the Board for 16 years before his untimely death in 2006. Fourteen years after his passing, the NLBM continues the tradition of celebrating O’Neil’s illustrious life.

The wrapped vehicles pay tribute to the great 1942 Monarchs team that won the Negro Leagues World Series and was O’Neil’s favorite team. That year’s uniform featured the iconic “Heart KC” patch that has become a symbol of KC pride. The Streetcar wrap incorporates the uniform design and O’Neil’s jersey number 22. The Monarchs were a great barnstorming team and took their exciting brand of baseball into towns and cities across the country. The wrapped Metro bus was given a vintage look to incorporate that winning spirit.

In February, the NLBM launched a year-long centennial celebration but Covid-19 caused the cancellation of many of the museum’s programs and events. The RideKC Transit team (KC Streetcar, Bus & Bike) partnered with the NLBM to keep the annual O’Neil birthday celebration alive in a spirited collaboration that now has other Negro League cities considering replicating the Kansas City effort.

The Wrapped with Heart Campaign was made possible by the generous support of sponsors and community partners: The Chamber’s Centurions Leadership Program; KC Streetcar Constructors; Pro Athlete; Lewis & Rice; JE Dunn; Port KC; HNTB; BMG Advisors; Global Prairie; and NLBM supporters near and far. Special thanks to Union Station for pitching in their support to help host this event.