John (Buck) O’Neil was born in 1922 in Florida.  He completed schooling up through middle school but was not allowed to attend high school since Florida had only four high schools for African Americans.  He had to move to a larger city in order to get a high school diploma.

Buck was an outstanding baseball player in the Negro Leagues.  African Americans were denied the opportunity to play in the Major League at the time.  His career spanned nearly 20 years as both a player and player/manager.

After his playing days were over, Buck served as a scout for major league teams.  He was named as the first African American coach in the Major League but was never assigned any coaching duties during a game.

Perhaps Buck is best known for his appearance on Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary.  Buck’s humor, graciousness, and storytelling were the highlight of the documentary.  Anyone watching the documentary had to feel a sense of remorse that African Americans had been shut out of baseball for so long.

In order to preserve the memory of those who played in the Negro Leagues, Buck created the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.  When the Baseball Hall of Fame decided to induct one Negro League player per year, Buck served on the selection committee but was never selected himself.  He was gracious in not being selected. “Don’t shed any tears.  You think about this..Here I am, the grandson of a slave.  And here the whole world was excited about whether I was going into the Hall of Fame or not.  We’ve come a long ways.”

At age 94, Buck appeared in his last baseball game, making him the oldest player to ever make a plate appearance.  He was walked.  He died within months of playing in the game he loved.  The Kansas City Royals have placed a red seat among the blue seats as the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat.  Those chosen to occupy the seat must exemplify Buck’s spirit.

Buck was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.   He joined Roberto Clemente, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, and Jackie Robinson as recipients of the award.  In 2022, Buck O’Neil was finally inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

A lifetime of achievement certainly matters in establishing one’s legacy.  Buck O’Neil certainly had that.  But achievement may not mean much if you don’t live a life where graciousness is also your legacy.  Think of the people in your life who were genuinely gracious.  They evoke memories that are so much more important than what can be placed in a scorecard.

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“To bear defeat with dignity, to accept criticism with poise, to receive honors with humility – these are marks of maturity and graciousness.”

–William Arthur Ward (motivational writer)

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