Baseball’s Greatest Story Simply Amazing


Editor/Collegiate Baseball

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The greatest baseball story ever told took place at the 2020 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention.

The remarkable John O’Leary talked about when he was a 9-year-old boy in 1987 and was playing with fire and gasoline at his parents’ home which caused a massive explosion that burned 100 percent of his body.

He was given no chance of living.

This is when St. Louis Cardinals’ Hall of Fame announcer Jack Buck entered his life.

He gave this young boy the strength to live and recover.

Buck was the Cardinals’ announcer for more than three decades as he called 11 World Series.

O’Leary spent five months in the hospital, underwent dozens of surgeries, lost all of his fingers to amputation and relearned to walk, write and feed himself.

“Thirty-three years ago, I was by myself in a burn center room in a wheelchair,” said O’Leary.

“It was a room I knew well because I had been in it for the previous five months.”

O’Leary said when he grew up in St. Louis, he saw boys playing with fire and gasoline in his neighborhood.

“What these boys would do is sprinkle gasoline on the sidewalk and strike a match. Then they would stand back two feet, throw the match on the sidewalk, and the liquid would dance to life. When you are nine years old and are a male, this is awesome.

“The 11-year-olds who did this were like adults to me.

“Ultimately I went into my parents’ garage and grabbed a can of gasoline. Then I attempted to pour a little bit before the liquid came out. What happens is that fumes come out before actual gasoline.

“In baseball, coaching, leadership, love, health, finance and life, its seldom what we see coming that burns. It’s not the liquid that burns you. It’s the fumes. Harnessing the fumes is what is vital in life. That day fumes came out of the can as I stuck a match and created a massive explosion.

“The explosion launched a 9-year-old little shortstop 20 feet to the other side of the garage. My life changed in an instant. One moment, I was a happy, healthy young boy. The next, I was a nine year old on my back in a burn center with burns on 100 percent of my body.

“I’m stretched out on a hospital bed dying. There was no reason for hope. I can’t move my arms or legs. My lungs were burned so bad that they had to put a hole in my neck which is called a tracheotomy. While I could breathe, I couldn’t eat, drink or talk.

“My eyes were also swollen shut. I was laying there tied down and couldn’t communicate, see, struggling as I was sad and mad. But I could dream, hope and pray and also listen. Have you ever noticed when your eyes are shut how much better you can hear?”

Enter Jack Buck
O’Leary said his second day at the burn unit, he heard his door open with footsteps. A chair was dragged across the room close to him.

“Then this voice cuts across the darkness. The voice (Jack Buck) says to me, ‘Kid, wake up. You are going to live. You are going to survive. And when you get out of here, we are going to celebrate. We’ll call it John O’Leary Day at Busch Stadium. I had never met Jack Buck before.

“Then he says, ‘Kid, are you listening?’ I nodded yes. Then Jack says, ‘Keep fighting.’

“The man stands and walks out of my room eight seconds after he arrived. He leaves a little 9-year-old shortstop with Major League dreams on his back tied down to a hospital bed. That man came into my room for eight seconds and changed my life forever. This is the power of relationships.

“I learned later on he made his way down the hallway. He leaned his head against a glass door and started weeping.”

To read more of this story, purchase the March 6 edition of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE.