The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum – A Kansas City Treasure Worth Preserving

June 9, 2016 by Gary Heise

Back in 2011, I had an eye-opening experience. We’d just finished the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame Induction event, and several of our honorees were interested in touring the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) the day after the induction. Having worked with the NLBM and its president, Bob Kendrick, for several years, I arranged a private tour for them guided by Bob himself.

Now, to that point, I considered myself a fan of the NLBM. I knew that it represented a significant piece of history, and I was proud to be part of the projects and events that took place there. During that day in November, though, as I walked through the museum with College Basketball Hall of Famers and listened to Bob tell the incredible stories and legends of the Negro Leagues and its players, it struck me just how much bigger than baseball this really was. It wasn’t just about a group of talented athletes who, because of segregation and racism, were kept from playing on the nation’s biggest stage. It was about America and the journey of our country as a whole, and about the men who stood up under the worst of human prejudice and persevered to create a life-giving culture of their own until the nation finally tore down its walls.

What I heard that day at the museum changed everything for me. And the longer I continue in my working relationship with Bob and the NLBM, the more I pray that others will come to the same realization.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is about so much more than sports; it’s about life. And what these men endured and overcame—what they represent now—is something that is truly significant to our nation. And it’s our extreme privilege to have it right here in Kansas City.

I heard on the news this week that city leaders tabled another attempt to pour resources into the 18th & Vine District where the NLBM and American Jazz Museum are located. Apparently, not enough people understand what we have in that area and how significant it truly is. Not enough people have had the Bob Kendrick tour, I guess.

The NLBM needs resources to be able to replicate that kind of experience for others so that its significance can be realized. Not just in Kansas City but across the U.S. It’s imperative the surrounding area is developed and maintained to provide a world-class environment that matches the incredible story that is told inside the museum.

This weekend, the NLBM will host its marquee event: the Hall of Game Induction. Through the Hall of Game, which was first established in 2014, the NLBM honors former MLB greats who competed with the same passion, determination, skill and flair exhibited by the heroes of the Negro Leagues. With legends such as Roberto Clemente, Joe Morgan, Rickey Henderson, Ozzie Smith and others already in the Hall of Game, this year’s ceremony will add Orlando Cepeda, Andre Dawson, Tony Oliva and Tim Raines to this elite group. MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark also will be awarded the Jackie Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award for career excellence in the face of adversity. It’s always an amazing event, and one that is entirely unique.

Here’s the thing: As time moves forward, the number of living Negro Leagues veterans continues to dwindle. It’s absolutely critical that we move to preserve and develop this historic institution. We were so blessed to have Negro Leagues legend Buck O’Neal with us for so many years. His vibrant personality and passion for the museum were electric, and Bob carries on his legacy with equal zest.

Kansas City, you have a chance to embrace the NLBM and to preserve our story. The Negro Leagues were born at the Paseo YMCA, which is now being renovated into the future Buck O’Neal Education Center. It will be a wonderful place to educate future generations, but it can’t be completed without our support.

Maybe you’re like me, though. You need the Bob Kendrick tour to catch the vision. Well, Bob’s a busy man, but I’m sure he’d make time for those who are willing. At the very least, I encourage you to visit the museum and spend some time learning about our past. It’s filled with exciting athletes and moving stories. And it’s something that should never, ever be forgotten.