The latest information on upcoming events and happenings at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum from the desk of NLBM president Bob Kendrick.
Salsa & Soul (6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday, Sept. 26)
Hit the dance floor at the NLBM for “Salsa & Soul.” It’s the rhythmic grand finale celebration of the museum’s critically acclaimed “Negro Leagues Beisbol” exhibit. Enjoy a festive evening of music, dance (Salsa demonstrations & lessons), food and fun as we celebrate the cultural and historical connection between the Negro Leagues and Spanish-speaking countries around the globe. Sample specialty drinks provided by McCormick Distillery. The event is FREE for NLBM members ($10 for the public). Space is very limited! For tickets or to RSVP, call (816) 221-1920 or visit www.nlbm.com.
Negro Leagues Beisbol
Developed in partnership with Sprint, The Kauffman Foundation and Major League Baseball. The exhibit opened, free to the public, in May in the museum’s Changing Gallery. It closes on Sept. 30 and will be converted into a national traveling exhibit with plans to visit all 30 MLB team cities.
Straight Talk with Jason Whitlock (6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 30)
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters will host an evening with ESPN Sportswriter Jason Whitlock. Whitlock will share his insight on a myriad of sports topics in a hard-hitting, pull no punches conversation. The event is free to the public but requires an RSVP. Seating is limited. To RSVP, www.bbbskc.org/whitlock.
Buck O’Neil 103rd Birthday Celebration (Nov. 8-9)
Prior to his passing in 2006, Buck used his birthday to raise money and awareness for the NLBM. After his death, the NLBM continued the tradition in an effort to keep Buck’s legacy alive.
In celebration of Buck’s 103rd birthday, the NLBM has planned a Marvin Gaye Salute to Buck aptly entitled “What’s Going On?” We’ll remember the life and times of Buck through the iconic music of one of the greatest performers in music history. Proceeds benefit the NLBM.
WHAT’S GOING ON?:
Buck O’Neil 103rd Birthday Celebration Highlights:
2014 Buck O’Neil 2.2 Mile Walk & 5K—9 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 8 (NLBM): Buck’s Kansas City Monarchs jersey number, 22, was the inspiration for the annual 2.2 mile walk. New for 2014, is the addition of a 5K that brings competitive runners, civic, social groups and families together for a spirited and culturally enriching race and stroll through the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District.
Buck’s Bash: What’s Going On?—8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 8 (Gem Theater): No one loved a good party more than Buck, and it’s in his spirit that the annual Birthday Bash continues. The event features a cocktail party (at the NLBM) followed by a soul-stirring tribute inspired by the music of Marvin Gaye. In addition, the NLBM will present Hy-Vee, Willie Wilson and Al Fitzmorris with the Buck O’Neil Legacy Award in recognition of “outstanding support of the NLBM.”
4th Annual Gospel Salute to Buck—3:30 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 9 (Gem Theater): For years, Buck preached the gospel of the Negro Leagues and the virtues of the NLBM to a legion of fans worldwide. So, it’s only fitting that his 103rd birthday celebration includes a spirited gospel salute featuring performances by area choirs and other artists. The annual event is free to the public.
We love comparisons in baseball.
When you try to compare current players and clubs to their counterparts in Negro Leagues history it’s difficult – but I’m going to try.
There are obvious answers just by counting the number of African-American players on a team. That’s too easy. Those of you who read this blog are more intelligent than that and also know that it wasn’t just color but also style of play, excitement and the passion of fans which set the Negro Leagues apart.
So here we go…
The Buccos encompass everything that defined a great Negro Leagues team. They have speed, power, a daring style of play which is among the most entertaining in all of baseball. A superstar in Andrew McCutchen, a budding star in Starling Marte and a group of young players led by Gregory Polanco.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Back in the day – musicians, singers, actors and writers flocked to Negro Leagues games. In Chavez Ravine you can see a who’s who each home game at Dodgers Stadium. It doesn’t hurt when skipper Don Mattingly pencils in Matt Kemp, Yusiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez each night.
Much like the Pirates, The Tigers have a Negro Leagues look. The vast majority of the post Negro Leagues stories center around position players – except for Satchel Paige of course. Pitching is where Detroit might have the best 1-2-3 in all of baseball. The common denominator – aside from extreme talent and Cy Young Awards between Max Scherzer, David Price and Justin Verlander is the fact that they are all innings eaters. Negro Leagues staffs consisted of pitchers who gobbled up innings and pitched frequently. A multi-talented outfield and professional hitters like Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez completes the resume.
Ok – stop scratching your head and hear me out. First of all- the season started with an African-American manager (Ron Washington). With Washington resigning and Bo Porter in Houston being fired – only Lloyd McClendon in Seattle is left piloting a club. Another subject for another day. Here’s the other element that puts the Rangers in this conversation – at the beginning of the season when teams broke from Spring Training, Texas had the most foreign born players on their roster in Major League Baseball (15 representing nine different countries). Currently in the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City you can view “Beisbol” which chronicles the rich history of Latin American players in the Negro leagues.Texas has players from Cuba, Curacao, Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
The “colorful” on this team doesn’t come from skin color as there’s not much more on the roster other than Coco Crisp. The color comes from uniforms, fans and players personalities. Think about it – aren’t those all traits of Negro Leagues teams? The white spikes, the beards – making you remember those hairy yet wildly talented teams of the 70’s, always doing more with less and while they may not be the largest in regard to numbers – Oakland fans like the group in right field and section 149 exude the same kind of passion found in Negro leagues ballparks.
The 1945 Kansas City Monarchs had one of the most dominant pitching staffs in baseball history. It was a staff with two – 20-game winners and collectively walked only 41 the entire season.
Of course everyone knows that the legendary Satchel Paige was the most high profile of the group but he wasn’t the only Monarchs hurler from that squad to be inducted into Cooperstown.
Hilton Smith pitched for the Monarchs from 1936- 1948.
Amazingly in each of those 12-seasons, he won 20-plus games. What makes this feat even more astounding was the fact that on many occasions, Smith would pitch what is termed today as “long relief” after Paige would pitch the first three innings of a contest.
Even more mind-boggling was a stretch from 1939-1942 in which Smith dominated hitters in the Negro Leagues to the tune of a 93-11 win -loss record. The Texas -native, who was one of a handful of players who were instrumental in convincing Monarchs owner J.L. Wilkinson to sign the great Jackie Robinson, kept hitters off balance with a looping curveball and an above average fastball.
In 1941 – Smith compiled an almost unblemished record of 24-1.
Six consecutive East-West All Star appearances, seven pennants and a world title in 1942 later – Smith, who campaigned loudly in his later years to have Negro Leagues players inducted into the Hall of Fame, was enshrined with baseball immortals in Cooperstown in 2001 further declaring the fact that he never belonged in anyone’s shadow on the diamond.
Dave Barr (@daveabarr)
As long as I can remember, athletes and musicians have always wanted to be each other.
The thrill of performing in front of large crowds whether at concert halls or ball diamonds is addictive.
Some have succeeded and some have not (Shaq!).
While not a professional singer - the legendary Buck O’Neil would belt one out every once in a while. He was quick to say he wasn’t much of a singer but he did a great rendition of the classic “Take Me Out to the Ball Game“.
The common denominator is that whether you played sports or sang – you were and those now are – entertainers.
One of the greatest entertainers of all time was the Godfather of Soul James Brown.
He loved baseball and his link to the Negro Leagues was a very strong one.
In his 2005 memoir entitled “I Feel Good”, Brown talks about how his world famous dance moves were influenced by Negro Leagues greats.
“But in those years, that Jackie Robinson, the first black man who came to Major League Baseball, and he was doing the split on first base. There was another black baseball team called the Indianapolis Clowns and the Kansas City Monarchs before blacks – those were Negro leagues. And eventually, when Robinson got into Major League Baseball, he brought some of those tricks with him…”
So many people in all walks of life were forever impacted by the style, creativity and pure athleticism of those who played in the Negro Leagues. That influence remains still today and is part of the living legacy of those players and teams.
Dave Barr (@daveabarr)
The one thing that I love about sports are the arguments.
No sport has better arguments than baseball because the vast majority of the stars of negro leagues baseball history didn’t play in the majors.
So i thought we would have some fun.
I want everyones input on the questions – some we may agree to disagree on but it is going to be interesting to read the responses!
The first “Who was…” question pits two of the quickest players in baseball history against each other.
Who was quicker? Lou Brock or Cool Papa Bell?
The two were very close. Brock was a pallbearer and offered the eulogy at Bell’s funeral.
They were also close on the diamond – from a statistical standpoint – both consistently leading their respective leagues in stolen bases and made life living hell on opposing pitchers.
It’s fitting that we talk about these two in the same way as one paved the way for the other.
Dave Barr (@daveabarr)
One can go back through sports history and pick great moments that surrounded African-Americans.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos, 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics.
Pick any number of dates in the illustrious career of Muhammad Ali.
Hershey, PA and 100 points for Wilt Chamberlain sticks out and of course Jackie Robinson breaking the baseball color barrier is unparalleled.
But today, just because of the two major events that occurred is the greatest sports day in African-American history.
Think about it – Henry Aaron, a slugger who got his start in the Negro Leagues with the Indianapolis Clowns, was about to break what many thought was an unbreakable mark. Babe Ruth was a bigger than life character who White America idolized. It was the home opener for the Atlanta Braves in 1974, Aaron had received bags of hate mail. So many threats that his family went into hiding. How dare a Black man break Ruth’s record. As great as the athletic achievement was – I think that the bravery and determination that Aaron showcased was even more profound.
A year later, on this same day – April 8, Frank Robinson became the first African-American to manage a Major League club.
The Cleveland Indians hired the Hall of Famer after he was traded from the California Angels half way through the season because of his open campaigning for the job. He would be a player / manager for the Tribe and in his first at bat in an Indians uniform – yep, home run against the Yankees.
In 1981, Robinson did it again and was tabbed the first African-American manager of a National League club with the San Francisco Giants.
His numbers on the field got him to Cooperstown – but to me, Robinson may be the most under appreciated baseball legend ever.
Dave Barr (@daveabarr)
Beginning in 1886, the Chicago White Stockings were the first major League baseball team to get ready for their season in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
“Supposedly, one of the reasons they came originally was that Mr. (Albert) Spalding, the owner of the White Stockings, wanted the alcohol microbes that some players had accumulated through the winter would be gone before the season,”Mark Blaeuer, researcher for the Hot Springs Historic Baseball Trail said. “Years like 1911 there were baseball colonies in town – major league , minor league and there weren’t many ball parks to share.”
Then and still today – it is all about the “healing” hot springs water in the historic Arkansas community.
“Many players would come before or after spring training to take the bath,” Blaeuer said. “Not to get you clean mind you but many like Babe Ruth felt it had healing powers. The power to heal and help you lose weight and you know Babe wasn’t exactly a skinny guy. The thing with Ruth, was yea he would work at it hard and lose weight but by the time he sampled the food and nightlife (mainly the casinos) of Hot Springs – he would gain it all back!”
There were an amazing amount of players that traveled in and out of Hot Springs each spring and throughout the winter.
Literally just below 50-percent of those enshrined in Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame in one way or another are associated with Hot Springs and spring training.
The list is amazing – from the afore mentioned Ruth to Honus Wagner who went as far as to buy football uniforms for the local high school in of course black and Pirates gold (which are still their colors today) to Cy Young all came to Hot Springs.
Three of the greatest African-American ball players also came to Hot Springs in the 1950’s to test the waters in Don Newcombe, Roy Campenella and Larry Doby.
Not only did Major and Minor League players venture to Arkansas but so did Negro League teams.
Around the country, African-Americans played baseball for whoever and wherever they could including the Hotels they worked for. This was the case of the first recorded all African-American baseball game in Hot Springs.
“That first game was in 1891 between a couple of local Hotels in town – the Park and Eastman,” Blaeuer, now a retired National Park employee who spends his time these days researching baseball said. “Then it just exploded with teams and players.
A whose who of Negro Leagues teams spent time training in Hot Springs – the Memphis Red Sox, Cleveland Buckeyes, New York Cubans, Baltimore Elites, Buck O’Neil and the Kansas City Monarchs. The New York Black Yankees, Chicago American Giants, Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords and Detroit Stars also hopped on the bus and went South for spring training and played games versus local teams.
The interesting thing is that they CHOSE to go to Arkansas a state at the time that wasn’t exactly a Mecca of integration and racial harmony.
“The attitudes were not the same in Hot Springs as as other places in the South. Many of the bath house and hotel employees and were African-American,” Blaeuer said. “It was a more comfortable place to be than many would think or believe.”
One Negro Leagues great who fell in love with Hot Springs was the legendary Rube Foster.
“Foster loved it here,” said the baseball historian. “Beginning in the 1890’s when he was playing for teams in Texas on into the 1920’s when he was running the Chicago American Giants.”
There have always been hints, rumors and stories of interaction between Negro League players and teams competing against White players and teams. One of those that unfortunately can’t be substantiated is that Foster in his playing days worked out for the Philadelphia Athletics.
“In the 1940’s and 50’s, the Monarchs played games at Jaycee Ballpark against the local Minor League Hot Springs Bathers,’ Blaeuer commented. “In 1930, the first year that the Homestead Grays came to Arkansas, they were supposed to play against the all- Jewish House of David ball club who were barnstorming around the country but they were rained out and had to leave town.”
There were a lot of barnstorming games that took place in Hot Springs with a myriad of great players.
“The Jackie Robinson All Stars came to Hot Springs in 1953,” said Blaeuer. “They were an integrated club with the likes of Gil Hodges and of course the great Robinson. They played against a Negro Leagues All Star team and lost even with the best of the Negro Leagues players having gone on to Major League Baseball at that time.
Another game that has historic significance was played in 1952 as a teenager by the name of Henry Aaron and the Indianapolis Clowns hit over .400 and slugged five home runs as the Clowns beat the Birmingham Black Barons in a game of the marathon 12-contest barnstorming championship series.
As if that isn’t enough – by the way did you think there was this kind of baseball history in Arkansas? One of the great Negro leagues stories of all-time originated in Hot Springs. Mark Blaeuer takes us through it.
“In 1901 Charlie Grant, slick fielding second baseman was down in Hot Springs working at Eastman hotel as bar hop. John McGraw saw him and wanted to sign him. Charlie was light skinned and McGraw thought he could pass him as a Native American and planned to bring him back to Baltimore. The orioles owner gave him the name Charlie Tokohama, (after noticing a creek named “Tokohama” on a map in the hotel). The reasons are conflicting why his plan was foiled. Some say Charlie Comiskey put a stop to it while others say that African-American fans in Chicago were so excited that the color lines were going to be bent that maybe they talked too much about Grant’s talent.”
No matter who you believe – one thing is for sure. Hot Springs was before it’s time in baseball history.
To learn more about the Hot Springs Historic Baseball Trail and the great baseball history that exists in the Natural State visit their website.
No Pepper Allowed is a great website full of vintage Arkansas team shirts like the Hot Springs Bathers.
Dave Barr (@daveabarr)
Not everyone lives in or near Kansas City where the Negro leagues Baseball Museum calls home.
Many find their way through the doors at 18th and Vine during the summer time whether vacationing in KC or coming to town to catch the a game at Kauffman Stadium.
But just in case you can’t or you haven’t had the chance to hear museum president Bob Kendrick give the “VIP” (which means everybody!) tour – we thought we would put some pictures together for you so that you could see some of the exhibits and history that make the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum an American treasure.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum has something for everyone including a fantastic gift shop as you enter. I saw the doors locked during the All Star game a couple of years ago and Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp put down the plastic to buy a ton of clothing, lids and coats for his family and fans!
One of the first great exhibits that you can visit is the Grand Stand Theater where James Earl Jones describes as only he can the history of Negro Leagues baseball.
There is so much history to take in at the Negro Leagues baseball Museum including jerseys, hats and more!
There is so much history at the museum and it’s not all about baseball. Negro Leagues baseball was a precursor to the Civil Rights movement.
The great Rube Foster was WAY before his time as an administrator and owner.
There are many things that you can’t miss when you visit the Museum but one that you ABSOLUTELY have to see is the Field of Legends with statues of baseball greats.
Martin Dihigo was the first great player from Latin America and played all seven positions and played them all very well. His statue is one of many in the museum immortalizing Negro Leagues legends.
You wouldn’t think that a musician from Canada would have a deep passion for Negro leagues baseball but Rush lead singer and bassist Geddy Lee donated this autographed baseball collection of Negro Leagues players to the Museum and stops by when he’s in Kansas City.
Talk about ironic baseball history! How about this ball signed by Jackie Robinson and Ty Cobb among others. Buck O’Neil used to say that there is no doubt that Cobb signed the ball first!
Bob Kendrick and his great staff do a fantastic job of keeping the Museum going every day while bringing in more and more for people to see and learn about Negro Leagues history. But there is no doubt that it is the house that Buck built.
For more information about the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum you can check out the website.
Dave Barr (@daveabarr)
22 players who played Negro Leagues baseball have been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Check out some video biographies of those immortalized.
Dave Barr (@daveabarr)