Timing. There are many expressions about time that can be applied to put our hopes and desires in perspective. “Time flies. “All good things come to those who wait.” “Time is precious.” “Timing is everything.” Whether wanting things to go faster or slower, time is something we have little control over. I’ve learned in my life that timing may not always be what we want, but we must make the most of the moments when the opportunities present themselves.
This month, baseball legend John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame – an honor long overdue. But as Buck’s autobiography graciously offered – even in its title – the former Sarasota resident felt he was “right on time.”
Having met Buck in Kansas City shortly before he passed away in 2006, I was in awe of his charisma and loving spirit. Moving to Sarasota just over a decade ago, I learned about his connection to Sarasota – including being taught by Emma E. Booker, but not able to attend high school because there were no high schools for African Americans in Sarasota at that time – I am even more awed by the kindness he carried with him throughout his life.
Buck championed racial equality for more than 50 years. His induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, was something he made no secret he hoped for, and is well earned for many reasons, including being the first African American coach in Major League Baseball.
O’Neil’s impact on American baseball has been chronicled through his own and many other books, the Ken Burns 1994 PBS documentary “Baseball,” and is showcased at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, which Buck championed. Locally, we have recognized Buck in recent years by naming the Buck O’Neil Baseball Complex at Twin Lakes Park, and I was thrilled in 2021 when the Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition brought an exhibition to the area so local students and adults could learn more about this amazing person.
Later this month a new mural will be unveiled in the Rosemary neighborhood as part of the Gilbert Mural Initiative, which celebrates the people and history of the Rosemary District. The public is invited to take in this larger-than-life piece being painted by the artist Matt McAllister, which is currently underway at 1468 Boulevard of the Arts (the University of Florida’s Innovation Station building). Then, on July 24th, the same day O’Neil’s plaque will join the 340 elected members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, I hope you will come out at 1p.m. Sunday, July 24, to "Churchwalls," the former Payne Chapel AME Church, at 513 Central Ave. for a watch party to celebrate Buck O’Neil’s induction.
Between now and then, I encourage you to learn about his early life in Sarasota, the challenges he overcame, and how revered O’Neil is by so many across the country. I would love to hear your memories catalyzed by the amazing life of Buck.