Last week I mentioned how my wife and I spent a Saturday in Kansas City. Some of her longtime friends, who she hasn’t seen in a long time, were in the city and they arranged to meet.
After I dropped her off with her friends, I had a few hours to myself.
I toured the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. I heard and read about it years ago but I never had the opportunity to visit.
If you haven’t been there before, I recommend it to all baseball fans and those who are interested in “social” history. You will get a great education in both.
Jackie Robinson, the first player to play in Major League Baseball, deserves the credit for his efforts to break the color barrier in MLB, in 1947. Was he the first, though? You need to go and learn about what happened before Robinson.
There is more to learn and appreciate what all of those players did, and endured, before, and including, Robinson.
Because of the discrimination against blacks, blacks created their own league in 1920 and teams, mainly in the south and east. Kansas City was the farthest city west to field a team.
Teams had to find ways to work around the discrimination against blacks in towns and regions of the country. You will read how some teams camped in parks since there may not have not enough hotel rooms, that allowed blacks, to stay.
During World War II, when the Negro League was still in existence, you read how players thought it was odd how the United States was at war with Germany over Hitler’s racism against Jews. But at home, there was still racism against black baseball players.
The league eventually closed after more black players were being brought in by MLB.
The fears of blacks playing still lingered long after Robinson took the field. Baseball fans will remember when Hank Aaron broke the career home-run record in 1974. There were threatening stories how Aaron was going to be shot while sitting in the dugout waiting his turn to go to the plate.
Some people didn’t want a black man breaking a white man’s record. That record belonged to Babe Ruth, another legendary baseball story.
The museum has its own hall of fame including John “Buck” O’Neil. He played first base for the Kansas City Monarchs. He finished his baseball career in 1955. O’Neil took time away from the game to serve in the Navy during World War II.
O’Neil, who died at the age of 94 in 2006, appreciated what Kansas City did for his baseball career. He returned the sentiment by giving back to baseball. He was a scout for Major League Baseball teams including the Chicago Cubs and the Kansas City Royals.
O’Neil was also a main instigator for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum that opened in 1991 and served on the board. The museum has immensely expanded since day one.
I’ve always respected the Royals, at least for the team name being an honor to the Monarchs knowing the struggles the Negro League had during its tenure. Many of those men were excellent players and didn’t deserve the treatment some in society put on them.
If you have ever watched the baseball-themed movie “The Sandlot” you will see one of the characters wear a Monarchs cap.
I tip my hat to the league and its museum.