Tucked onto the corner of 18th and Vine Streets in Kansas City, Missouri sits one of the more culturally significant museums in the United States.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) tells the story of how these segregated leagues evolved from creation until eventually being fully integrated with Major League Baseball.
Podcast to be Named Later had the privilege Monday afternoon to interview NLBM President Bob Kendrick about the museum, the Negro Leagues themselves, pioneers such as Jackie Robinson and Buck O’Neil, along with the legacy and stories that still mean so much today.
The foremost impression you get from hearing Kendrick speak is his obvious pride. From the first question forward, you discover the smile on his face when all you hear are words.
When asked what he hoped people would take away from the museum, he answered:
“You will walk away with a newfound appreciation for just how great this country really is.”
Kansas City was the birthplace of the modern Negro Leagues. Rube Foster, an extraordinary pitcher in his own right, organized the Negro National League a block and a half away from the museum in 1920 at a local YMCA. His story could (and should) come right out of Hollywood.
“He did everything. A great player, great manager and a great owner. And—believe it or not—he died in an insane asylum.
Kansas City was also home to the Monarchs. Their most famous player—among Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell and Ernie Banks—was Robinson, of course, who played his rookie season there in 1945.
The stars of the recent movie “42,” including Harrison Ford (Branch Rickey) and Chadwick Boseman (Robinson), put on a fundraising screening in Kansas City that drew over 1,400 viewers.
Kendrick explains the impact:
“We could not be happier to see the film be so successful at the box office. We owe a great deal of gratitude to the folks at Legendary Films and Warner Brothers…for making this epic opportunity happen for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.”
The cornerstone of the museum is the “The Field of Legends.”
Twelve life-sized statues adorn this field and are positioned as if they were playing a game of baseball but, as Kendrick explains, reaching it is not easy.
“You have to earn that right and you do so by learning their story. By the time you bear witness to everything they endured to play baseball in this country, the very last thing that happens is now you can take the field. In many respects, you are now deemed worthy to take the field with 10 of the greatest baseball players to have ever lived.”
The Kansas City Royals have also embraced the continued influence the Negro Leagues still play in modern society.
Recently for a Sunday game at Kauffman Stadium, fans were encouraged to “Dress to the Nines.”
Instead of the usual ballpark attire, fans dressed in formal clothing like they did for after-church doubleheaders generations before.
Not only was there an overwhelming response, other clubs with rich Negro Leagues heritage such as Washington and New York are considering such events in the future.
The Museum, and Kendrick himself, portray the establishment and success of the Negro Leagues as a celebration.
When asked why the history of the Negro Leagues was important to remember, his response was short and profound:
“Because it is the history of this country.”