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K.C. HOME OF THE NEGRO LEAGUES BASEBALL MUSEUM
WORLD SERIES HISTORY VISITS KANSAS CITY,
HOME TO NEGRO LEAGUES BASEBALL MUSEUM
By Gary Norris Gray BASN Staff Reporter and Arthur R. George-Major Contributor
As baseball history brings Kansas City its second World Series in 35 years, about fifteen minutes and seven miles northeast of the Royals’ Kauffman Stadium up Interstate Highway 70 is the home of The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Kansas City was the birthplace of the Negro National League in 1920. Among the first eight teams in the “National Association of Colored Professional Baseball Clubs” was the St. Louis Giants, as history repeats with a modern Major League Giants team and Kansas City’s Royals meeting in the 2014 series.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum preserves what was the parallel universe of Black baseball until Jackie Robinson, who had played in Kansas City on the Monarchs team, integrated the sport in 1947.
The 10,000-square foot museum is anchored by a simulated field populated by life-sized bronze sculptures of eleven players from the Negro Leagues who have been inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The path through the museum reinforces the message of a separate historically unique experience.
A LEARNING EXPERIENCE
Access to the model field follows exhibits of uniforms and other memorabilia in representations of players’ lockers, multimedia exhibits, and lifestyle exhibits highlighting black businesses such as hotels and barbershops, as well as fashion and styles of the era. Visitors enter through antique-styled turnstiles, but are purposely segregated from other parts of the exhibit by a chicken-wire backstop. Only after reviewing the history can visitors take the field with statues of black baseball legends.
The museum is not just part of baseball’s past. Museum president Bob Kendrick said the museum could play a role in addressing declining participation in baseball among African-Americans. Only 8.3 percent of big leaguers on 2014 Opening Day rosters were African American, according to figures (MLB) Major League Baseball provided to the New York Times.
At the end of the 2014 season only 87 African Americans wore a major league uniform. This needs to be improved.
Major League Baseball now is populated extensively by Latin players, but that is also part of baseball’s present and past. Kendrick said that Negro Leagues players often were the first Americans to play baseball in Spanish-speaking countries, and there has long been a little-known relationship between American-born African-American baseball players and Latin baseball players, and the close-knit relationship that was generated through baseball.
When Kansas City hosted the All-Star Game in 2012, Hall of Famers Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron and Tony Gwynn spoke at the museum on the influence of the Negro Leagues on the major leagues. Commissioner Bud Selig made his first visit to the museum that week.
The museum remains on the periphery of the modern game, although the World Series and All-Star Game have brought greater visibility and visitation. The museum has always been privately funded, according to Kendrick, and its financing struggle parallels the history of the Negro leagues. “We have been in many ways, like those in the Negro Leagues, having to scratch and claw and find a way in order to create a stable environment.” The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., is reported as having 90 full-time employees. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum has seven, according to Kendrick. The museum would like to hire more staff, but that takes money.
Kendrick has said a core group of star players has provided support, including Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp; Yankees Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter, and CC Sabathia; Detroit Tiger Torii Hunter; Phillies Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins; and Met Curtis Granderson. Kendrick told The Boston Globe that it’s actually easier to get the support of former players, with Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Joe Morgan, Lou Brock, and Dave Winfield among major contributors. Kendrick told the Globe that the Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, and New York Yankees have all been involved in supporting the museum financially for years but his goal is to get all 30 clubs involved in supporting the museum. Kendrick said that the Boston Red Sox bring players to the museum each year.
The present Royals ownership has also been supportive, Kendrick reported. For two years, the Royals have hosted a “Dressed to the Nines” promotion, emulating the stylish dress of black fans in the Negro Leagues era when ball games were social events.
For one game this year, the Royals and Baltimore Orioles wore retro uniforms from the Negro League era. The Royals wore a cream Monarchs jersey with a dark blue “KC” logo on the sleeve, pants with dark blue pinstripes, and a cream colored cap with a dark blue bill and a dark blue “M” on the front. Baltimore came out as the Baltimore Black Sox in road gray jerseys from the late 1920s with the Black Sox logo across the chest, and a black cap with orange bill and the “circled B” logo on the front. The first 10,000 fans in the ballpark received fedora hats bearing the Monarchs logo. Auction of the retro uniforms and a portion of ticket purchases went to the museum.
HBCU-(Historically Black Colleges and Universities) AND BASEBALL
Kendrick said that the Negro Leagues had a higher percentage of college-educated players, partly because the Negro Leagues teams would train at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and then recruit players from there, while most major league players were drafted out of high school.
MLB today still draft high school stars but most of these players attend college before becoming a professional baseball player.
“Almost 40 percent of players in the Negro Leagues had some form of college education,” Kendrick said. “Perhaps less than five percent of major leaguers at that time had any kind of college education for the simple reason that the major leagues didn’t want you to go to college. But [black players] were the ones who were being depicted as not being smart enough to play in the major leagues.” This attitude continues with the stereo typing of the African American players today.
Correcting this concept or misconception by the Negro League Museum and Major League Baseball could improve the participation of African Americans in this wonderful game.
Gary Norris Gray – Writer, Author, Historian. Gibbs Magazine-Oakland, California and New England Informer- Boston Mass. THE GRAYLINE:- The Analects of A Black Disabled Man, The Gray Leopard Cove, Soul Tree Radio In The Raw, and The Batchelor Pad Network on Blogtalkradio.com Disabled Community Activist. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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