Buck O'Neil was barred from attending his local high school or playing in Major League Baseball. But that systemic discrimination didn't halt his notorious ambition or drive.
In his role with the Cubs as a scout and then coach, he discovered African-American greats like Lou Brock, Ernie Banks, Lee Smith and Joe Carter. All four became Hall of Fame ballplayers. In the process, he became the first African-American coach in MLB history.
O'Neil was a Negro League legend and became the Kansas City Monarchs' player-coach from 1947-54. The all-around first baseman won a Negro American League batting title (hitting .350 in 1946), played in three All-Star games and won two Negro World Series.
In all, he played nearly 20 seasons of high-level professional baseball prior to becoming a scout for the Cubs.
Though he never became an MLB manager, his passion for the game never wavered. And though he never got to play in the major leagues because of institutional racism, he doesn't regret a thing.
As quoted in the aforementioned Sports Illustrated story:
There's nothing greater for a human being than to get his body to react to all the things one does on a ball field. It's as good as sex; it's as good as music. It fills you up. Waste no tears for me. I didn't come along too early. I was right on time.
From the SI Vault:
"The Guiding Light," by Steve Wulf (Sept. 19, 1994)
"Q+A Buck O'Neil," by Sridhar Pappu (April 5, 2004)