KANSAS CITY, Mo. (November 13, 2018) – With the last World Series roar a quickly fading echo, baseball’s long winter offseason stretches ahead. In late June and early July, when baseball was still in full swing, I visited a series of historical sports sites as part of a cross-country trip. Those stops included an overnight in Kansas City to visit several museums, including the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM).
Until Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers integrated Major League Baseball in 1947, the sport was rigidly segregated at its highest level, dating to the mid-late 19th-century when Jim Crow laws increasingly took hold across the country.
In February 1920 in Kansas City, African-American owner and manager Rube Foster led a coalition of fellow owners to form the Negro National League (NNL). The NNL is often considered the leading member of a handful of subsequent leagues that are collectively referred to as ‘the Negro Leagues’ for the more formal structure, and subsequent success, that defined them.
The NLBM was founded in 1990 by a group of former players, including one-time Kansas City Monarchs’ player/manager, Buck O’Neil.
The museum and its exhibits encompass too many facets of the game to cover at any length, but highlights include the story of Effa Manley, the first woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and the owner of the highly-successful Newark Eagles.
Others are the stories of teams such as the Baltimore Elite Giants, a franchise that produced HOF’ers Roy Campanella and Leon Day as well as back-to-back National League Rookies of the Year, Joe Black (1952) and Junior Gilliam (1953).
In Western North Carolina, the Negro Southern League had an entry, the Asheville Blues (1945-1951), that played some of its games at McCormick Field and had in-game performance incentives for players such as a “$5 and a free taxi ride from the 970 Taxi for the first pitcher striking out two men in a row. $5 from the Ritz Restaurant for the first pitcher striking out seven men.”
Numerous players of major league-caliber never got the call to the majors in the decades of segregation, or in the years that followed. The Boston Red Sox, this year’s World Series champion, integrated in 1959, 12 years after Robinson’s debut. The NLBM helps tell their story.
The museum is located at 1616 East 18th Street, in the same building as the American Jazz Museum. Both are a short walk from the Kansas City MLB Urban Youth Academy, which opened in 2018 and all are a short drive from the city’s National World War I Museum and Memorial.