As the country reckons with various racial injustices throughout its history, baseball — which prides itself on being "America's Pastime" — must do the same.
The 100th anniversary of Rube Foster founding the Negro National League, and the accompanying #TipYourCap social media campaign, provides an opportunity to do so. Four past presidents, Hank Aaron, Michael Jordan and countless celebrities have already "tipped their caps" to honor the past.
Had Major League Baseball integrated prior to 1947, the names of Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Satchel Paige, Biz Mackey and Foster would be listed alongside Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Walter Johnson and Ty Cobb.
Gibson could have surpassed Ruth as the slugger of his generation. Perhaps Paige would top several pitching categories in the record books. Instead, the names of the Negro League legends are reserved to be memorized by the diehards, pushed to the periphery once again.
It doesn't have to be that way, though, and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum on 18th and Vine Street in Kansas City, Missouri, is a haven of baseball's segregated history.
An awesome “tip of the cap” in memory of the legendary Buck O’Neil & to salute the 100th Anniversary of the Negro Leagues from actor Paul Rudd! Join the movement! https://t.co/uHMSxAVscr#[email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected]@[email protected] RT pic.twitter.com/C9MHWhFpMA
On display are artifacts and authentic jerseys that potentially could have been lost to time. The bronze sculptures around an indoor diamond is among the many neat features. The most knowledgeable baseball fan could spend hours in this shrine and leave with a wealth of new information.
The museum began as a one-room exhibit in 1991, but under the leadership of the late O'Neill — the museum's first chairman — it moved into its current location in November 1997.
The Field of Legends, complete with bronze sculptures, at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo. (Photo: AP)
During the league's spread in the 1930s and 40s, more than a handful of cities across America — Atlanta, Birmingham, Chicago, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Louisville, Mobile, New Orleans, Raleigh, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia — housed teams, leading to the sport's growing popularity in minority communities.
When MLB began allowing Black players to sign professionally, the league couldn't survive and ceased to exist after 1962.
Today, museum director Bob Kendrick is known to give visiting players tours of the museum when their teams are in town to play the Royals. Kansas City was where Foster founded the league and was home to arguably the league's most famous team, the Monarchs. The location makes it the most fitting place to receive an in-depth lesson about the 5-foot-3 Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, one of three female players in the league (and the first pitcher), or Martin Dihigo.
MLB and the Players' Association donated $1 million to the museum to mark the 100th anniversary. It's a grand gesture, but the acknowledgement of a deprived history and educating present-day fans about that period remains paramount.
One final tip if you're planning a visit to the museum sometime soon: the adjacent jazz museum is equally enriching. And Arthur Bryant's BBQ down the street is not to be missed.
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