one of the greatest men I ever met…

BK Buck ONeil

In 1999, I got a chance to meet one a truly great man and, unless you are a baseball fan like me, you probably have never heard of him. His name was John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil. He came to Colorado Springs to speak at our local library, where he shared with a small group of baseball fans like me. I knew Buck from Ken Burns’ extraordinary Baseball documentary series, but I wanted to meet him in person. While I expected to hear him speak about his experiences in the Negro Leagues, and the greats he played with, I was not expecting to be touched that evening.​Buck O’Neil grew up in Florida, a son of a former slave, during the horrible days of racial segregation. He was not allowed to attend public high school, so he was forced to leave his family and live with relatives in another part of the state while he attended Edward Waters College to finish his high school degree and two years of college. In 1934, he left college to play semi-pro baseball, touring the country with other amazing black players, such as the legendary Satchel Paige. After playing one year in Memphis, the Kansas City Monarchs purchased his contract and his Negro League career began to flourish. During his twelve year career, Buck led the Negro Leagues in hitting in 1946 and led his Monarchs to a Negro World Series championship in 1942. He was name to the league’s All Star team seven times and he managed the Monarchs for another eight years from 1948-1955. Perhaps his greatest achievement on the field came in 1962, when he became the first African-American to manage in the major leagues when the Chicago Cubs named him as their skipper. As a scout, he credited with discovering the greats of Lou Brock, Ernie Banks and Joe Carter. And, in 2006, he became the second oldest man (at 94) to play in a professional game when he took the bat in a minor league All-Star contest. his lifetime, Buck was privileged to play along side some of the greatest baseball players who ever lived, though many never were allowed to play in the major leagues. Names like Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard, Oscar Charleston, Pop Lloyd, Turkey Stearnes and Smokey Joe Williams would never become familiar to most American, despite their unbelievable talent and achievements. Buck also got to see some of the greatest players in major league history playing, greats like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gerhig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson.

That evening in 1999, I showed up expecting to hear this baseball great talk about the game and tell stories of the players he saw and played with, and he did not disappoint. His stories of the baseball greats were brilliant and I was captivated. His personal story of living through hate and racial segregation broke my heart but I was not ready for was the kindness and love that flowed from this man. Instead of hurt and bitterness, I heard love and forgiveness. Instead of sadness and loss, I heard joy and thankfulness like I never could have imagined. Here is a man who by all accounts has the right to be angry over how he was treated throughout his life, but Buck only showed the love of his God.

At the end of the evening, Buck asked everyone in the room to hold hands. While this was clearly awkward, no one denied the 87 year old legend. Then he led the whole room in singing “The Greatest Thing In All My Life, Is Loving You.” We sang the chorus 4-5 times. At first, I thought, “This is silly” but quickly it hit me….this man, who has experienced hatred like I will never understand truly means what he is singing! This was a man who saw the beauty in each person, not the ugliness, and wanted to end hatred by loving people. I hold a grudge against a perfect stranger when he cuts me off on the highway, and here is a man who loves in the face of SO much worse. At that moment, tears welled in my eyes and I begged my God for forgiveness.

In 2006, Buck O’Neil died at the age of 94 in Kansas City. I both grieved and celebrated that day, knowing that while a baseball legend and a beautiful person had died, but also that Buck was now in heaven with his beloved wife and the Lord he thanked every day. I have not even come close to conquering my tendency to hold petty grudges and punish people for every little offense, but I have tried to remember Buck and what he taught me that evening….

The greatest thing….

In all my life….

Is loving you…..

Thank you Buck.


~ by kuiperactive on May 8, 2014.

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