Back in his barnstorming days, Buck O'Neil and his Negro leagues baseball pals would motor into a city and show the local ballplayers a thing or two, then move on to the next town. They didn't realize it, but they were helping to pave the way for the integration of the major leagues.
Now 93, O'Neil appeared at RFK Stadium yesterday at the "Times of Greatness" mobile museum, a Negro leagues exhibit that made a one-night stop in a stadium parking lot.
With the number of living players dwindling, O'Neil is trying preserve the legacy of the Negro leagues and drum up interest in the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in his adopted home town of Kansas City, Mo., where he played first base for the Monarchs, and for a time managed, between 1948 and '55.
"We want everyone to come to Kansas City but know everyone can't come to Kansas City," the white-haired O'Neil said. "That's why it's so important to take this show on the road. It's been very, very helpful to us."
The mobile museum, housed in a 53-foot trailer and equipped with multimedia exhibits as well as replicated jerseys and other displays, is in the second half of a five-month tour, sponsored by Roadway Express. On hand with O'Neil yesterday were two ex-Negro leaguers who live in the Washington area -- Hubert Simmons and Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, one of the few women who played in the leagues.
"You know that in the not-too-distant future, there won't be anyone left to testify about this league," said Bob Kendrick, assistant to the executive director of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. "It puts a little bit of pressure on the organization because you know that window of opportunity is closing. You've got to gather these stories."
-- Preston Williams