Twenty-five years ago the late John Buck O’Neil gathered with key baseball friends and advisors in Kansas City to push forward an idea to house black baseball history, and to keep the memory and legacy of Negro League baseball alive for generations to come. They envisioned a building as a museum, classrooms to teach, and building close to baseball fields where kids could carry on playing baseball. But what is an idea without action?
The dream began moving towards reality shortly after Buck became a highly recognizable advocate for the Negro Leagues after appearing in the famed Ken Burns’ 1994 nine-part documentary, “Baseball”. This, if you will, started the ball rolling towards actualizing their dream. What started in one room in the Lincoln building on 18th and Vine, moved once in 1994, and finally to a 10,000 sq. ft. space where it is housed today. Although the process was not without it’s ups and downs the dream moved forward. After the death of founder, Chairman and highly visible advocate Buck O’Neil, at age 94 in 2006, changes in leadership at the facility were inevitable. Today it has persevered and remains alive, well and in the capable hands of president Bob Kendrick.
Today, things are looking brighter than ever for the venerable Kansas City institution. In 2013 the MLB All Star Game was held in Kansas City and throngs of people made their way through the turnstiles at both the newly renovated ballpark and the NLBM, in the 18th and Vine District. We are now in November 2015, the local Kansas City Royals just won the World Series for the first time in 30 years, and it’s time to celebrate the 25th annual year of the NLBM.
As an honored guest of this sold out event, I have been asked to be a host, and to fete both Hank Aaron and Ferguson Jenkins. I am pleased to be a part of the festivities because this is a cause that has meant so much to me over the last decade. Buck O’Neil was a good friend, a teacher of this new world to me, and had a huge influence on my perspective of the Negro Leagues .
During my time as an Executive with the San Diego Padres, for those who did not have the opportunity to attend or witness any of the Tributes to the Negro Leagues I led, I wanted to be sure that those who played in the Negro Leagues would receive recognition, respect and a little money while they were still alive and active. Just so you know, virtually all of the players told me at some point these programs that we held, I quote in summary, “It was either the best day of their baseball life, or the best day of their life!”.
So, with only a few dozen of these men and women of the Negro League alive today, this 25th anniversary celebration should help carry on this all-important legacy. I respect each and every one of these men and women like family, as they played the game that helped set the stage for who I am today. For this reason I continue to give my best to ensure they get the respect and recognition they all deserve.
And for those of you who have never visited Kansas City, put a visit to the Negro League Baseball Museum on 1616 E 18th Street is a must do. Put it on your own Bucket List, along with visiting the connected American Jazz Museum. Then find some live jazz, and then finish off the day with dinner of your choice of one of those wondrous KC BBQ restaurants.