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Kansas City owes it to Buck O’Neil

July 9, 2013 by Gary Heise

Buck O’Neil said the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum should be in Kansas City.

Period. End of story.

That should be enough to convince anyone inspired by the stories of black baseball players in the 1920s-50s that a museum to chronicle the struggles and perseverance of its main characters should be rooted in the very place where the league was born – at the intersection of 18th and Vine Streets in Kansas City, Missouri.

From the time he set foot on the first dirt field until his death in 2006, O’Neil was the Negro Leagues’ most passionate ambassador and storyteller. To whoever would listen – from school children and businessmen to famous documentary-makers and late night talk show hosts. And wherever he went, O’Neil talked about the integral part Kansas City played in establishing the league.

Anyone with an interest in the rich heritage of baseball should respect Buck’s wishes for the Negro Leagues’ legacy.

In light of a recent article in The Kansas City Star regarding the potential development of a Negro Leagues museum in Birmingham, Alabama, the notion that Kansas City would accept another city claiming to be the home of a Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is unacceptable.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is an important thread in the fabric of our city – as important as our barbecue and our jazz music, the Plaza and Sprint Center. 

During last year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game in our town, much of baseball’s Midsummer Classic event week hoopla centered around the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Baseball dignitaries walked through the museum and one by one declared the same thing – this is a tribute that has to be preserved and Kansas City is the right place for it. Commissioner Bud Selig. Former Monarch Jackie Robinson’s daughter Sharon Robinson. Hall of Famers Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron. The list went on and on.

Then, there’s the recent movie “42” depicting Jackie Robinson’s historic move from a Kansas City Monarch to the first black player in an MLB uniform. Heck, even the movie premiere event was held in Kansas City, complete with appearances by stars Harrison Ford and Chadwick Boseman. Why KC? Because Hollywood knows where the Negro Leagues started and where that history is preserved today.

Kansas City has always been defined – even memorialized in art – by its hardworking, “roll-up-our-sleeves” attitude. Whatever it takes to get the job done. This is precisely why Kansas City should make a commitment to the museum in both word and deed.

  • Rally the city’s business and civic leaders to help provide funding to complete the Buck O’Neil Research and Education Center at the former YMCA, which is the next big step for the museum.
  • Bring new technology to the museum to enhance the fan experience further.
  • Push hard for Major League Baseball and its member clubs, including our own Kansas City Royals, to provide significant financial support.
  • Do everything possible to insist that today’s players understand the stories of those heroes who paved the way.

To do anything less would be an absolute travesty, turning our backs on Buck O’Neil and his vision for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Period. End of story.