Results tagged ‘ Negro Leagues ’

Trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame

A little over eight years ago, back in June of 2006, I took a trip with my family to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, as part of a two week journey around the Northeast. I wasn’t extremely into baseball back then, but I enjoyed it just enough that I would’ve gotten a decent experience out of the visit. However, it wasn’t meant to be. Due to major flooding in the surrounding area, the Hall of Fame was closed, and we had to settle for a visit to a nearby baseball wax museum — an interesting place, but one that obviously paled in comparison to the main attraction in town.

In the years since, I’ve become one of the biggest baseball fans you’ll ever meet, constantly following the game and studying up on the stars of today and years past. Therefore, it had slowly become a must for me to make it back to Cooperstown at some point during my life. Although I imagined a return trip would take place a couple of decades or more from the time I last made the long trek up to New York from North Carolina, a plan for my dad, grandpa and I to take another trip to the Hall of Fame was quickly orchestrated over the past few months. And thus, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, the three of us made our way to New York.

On Saturday, November 29th, we got up early and made the drive from our hotel in Binghamton, NY, over to Cooperstown, arriving at a little bit after 9:00 in the morning:

DSCN7426As you may have noticed, there was snow on both of the trees to each side of the doors, as well as icicles hanging at various lengths from the roof. The cause of the snow and ice is one element of the trip that wasn’t present in June of 2006: cold weather. Far from the warm summer temperatures of our last visit, it was fairly cold (as is to be expected in late November), with the day starting off at around 10 degrees. But, thankfully, the Hall of Fame doesn’t close for cold temperatures, and we were actually able to make it past the front door this time around.

Upon entering the Hall and purchasing our tickets, we walked up the stairs to the second floor, where we caught a brief introduction movie, before beginning the tour of the museum.

One of the first pieces of memorabilia that we saw, and one of the most interesting of the day, was an old baseball that was used to “prove” that Abner Doubleday was the inventor of baseball, back in 1839:

DSCN7427However, contrary to popular belief, Doubleday didn’t invent baseball. As the display discussed, Doubleday was given credit for the sport’s origin, but a version of baseball had been being played for numerous years prior to 1839. Although the exact inventor of baseball isn’t fully known, credit for the rules of today’s version of the game — 90 feet between bases; 9 innings; 9 players per team — was awarded to Alexander Cartwright, the “Father of Modern Baseball”.

But while the invention of baseball wasn’t Abner Doubleday’s, there was an interesting non-baseball item that was in fact his own:

DSCN7436As a lover of history, including the Civil War era, these shoulder epaulets belonging to Doubleday during the war were very cool to see. Though not directly related to baseball, I came to find that the off the wall items such as these — not just baseballs, bats, jerseys, etc. — were some of the most interesting things to see.

But the baseball memorabilia was amazing as well; especially that of baseball’s well known all-time greats, such as Honus Wagner. Playing from 1897 through 1917, mainly for the Pittsburgh Pirates, there was a locker filled with Wagner stuff, such as one of Wagner’s full uniforms (used while he was a manager):

DSCN7442Wagner’s 1909 T206 baseball card holds the record for the most valuable sports card in existence, having sold for a whopping 2.8 million dollars back in 2007. So seeing the rare items tied directly to Wagner was amazing.

But things kept getting better and better as the journey through the museum continued. Next up was an entire section dedicated to the most well known player in baseball history: Babe Ruth. Among the items on display were a baseball estimated to have been hit by Ruth over 500 feet (picture 1); Ruth’s glove from the 1926 World Series (picture 2); a display of various things, such as one of Ruth’s bats (picture 3); and an autographed Babe Ruth baseball (picture 4):

RuthFollowing the Ruth exhibit, there was an exhibit dedicated the Negro Leagues, titled “Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience”. The most well known Negro League player has to be Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier back in 1947, going on to be inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. However, the exhibit focused on more than just Robinson. Also included in the exhibit, that helped tell the story of the Negro Leagues, were uniforms worn by Satchel Paige (left) and James “Cool Papa” Bell (right):

Negro LeaguesPaige is likely the most widely known Negro League pitcher, having pitched three shutout innings against the Boston Red Sox in 1965 at the age of 59, becoming the oldest player ever to play in the majors. Bell, while not as much of a household name as Paige, was just as amazing in his own way. Possessing blazing speed, it was said that Bell could “turn off the light and be under the covers before the room got dark” and that Bell once “hit a ball up the middle of the field and was struck by the ball as he slid into second base”. Though merely stories people liked to tell, it goes to show just how much Bell’s speed stood out to people.

Next in line on the path through the museum was “Diamond Dreams”, which showcased the many roles that women have played throughout the history of baseball, including playing the game themselves. The 1992 movie ‘A League of Their Own’, staring Tom Hanks, Geena David and Madonna, among others, covered this very topic of women playing the baseball. And therefore, the exhibit included costumes from the movie itself:

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After spending some time reading about the history of women in baseball, the three of us then made our way through a collection of items from 1930-1970, including things used by all-time greats, Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle, before finding ourselves in a portion of the museum dedicated to Latin American baseball players, entitled ‘Viva Baseball':

DSCN7483Although everything in the exhibit was interesting and fun to learn about, there were some items that interested me more than others. Two of the key items for me were David Ortiz’s 2004 World Series jersey (left), from the year the Red Sox broke their 86-year Championship drought, as well as a jersey worn by Albert Pujols (right) during his 2001 Rookie of the Year winning season:

LatinBoth players are likely on their way to the Hall of Fame for their careers once they retire.

The next section we came upon covered baseball up through the year 2000. Some of the top things around the exhibit were a Tom Seaver display (Seaver holds the record for highest Hall of Fame induction voting percentage, with 98.8 %) that included the red cleats from his 300th career win (picture 1); George Brett’s pine tar bat from 1983 (picture 2); Robin Yount’s batting helmet from his 3,000th hit (picture 3); and Derek Jeter’s 1998 World Series cleats (picture 4):

Today's GameAlthough I enjoyed every portion of the museum, seeing this type of stuff from players that I’ve seen countless hours of video on truly made it all the more impressive.

That’s one of the reasons I most enjoyed the last room of the second floor that had items from the last decade or so of the game. One of the great things about these items was that I could remembered seeing a lot of the unique events they were tied to take place on TV, either live or in a recap of the game. The room was organized into thirty different lockers (one for each team) positioned around the walls, with several items for each team in each locker.

Remember back in 2012 when Orioles’ slugger Chris Davis came on to finish out the marathon 16 inning game on the mound against the Red Sox after beginning the game as the designated hitter? Well, the cap Davis was wearing was there:

DSCN7516Do you recall the unbelievable home-run-robbing catch made by DeWayne Wise in 2009 to preserve Mark Buehrle’s perfect game? They had the glove he used to snag the ball:

DSCN7520In fact, pretty much anything of significance that has happened within the past number of years was included in this exhibit. The cleats Miguel Cabrera was wearing the night he secured baseball’s first Triple Crown since 1967 (picture 1); the cleats Mike Trout wore when he recorded his first career cycle (picture 2); Jim Thome’s 600th career home run (picture 3); and the cap Mariano Rivera wore during his final All-Star outing of his career in 2013 (picture 4):

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It was all there.

Also in the room — in a display case in the very center — was an arrangement of items specifically from the 2014 Major League Baseball season. Although a bat from Jose Abreu’s rookie year was awesome to see, as were the cleats Albert Pujols was wearing when he blasted his 500th career home run, the thing that stood out to me the most was the jersey worn by Mo’ne David during the Little League World Series:

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Having watched Davis pitch on T.V. throughout the series, as well as seeing her on the cover of Sports Illustrated and basically anywhere you looked, it was awesome to see the jersey used by the first girl to earn a win in Little League World Series history.

After taking in all the things from this season, and doing my best to photograph it all, we all made our way up to the third floor of the museum. There, in a Hank Aaron exhibit, we saw another unique item not directly related to baseball, like the Abner Doubleday epaulets talked about earlier — bricks from Aaron’s childhood home in Alabama:

DSCN7557But while that was awesome to see, the Hall of Fame also had the full uniform Aaron was wearing the night he passed Babe Ruth for most home runs on the all-time home run list:

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That was pretty remarkable to see after watching him hit that historic blast over and over on T.V.

However, as we all know, Aaron’s career mark of 755 home runs didn’t stand. Barry Bonds went on to pass Aaron, with his 756th home run coming on August 7, 2007. The helmet Bonds was wearing when he hit the homer was on display, as was the ball itself:

DSCN7573You may have noticed that the ball has an asterisk cut out of the cover. The story behind that lies with Marc Ecko — the person who bought the ball online for $752,467. After purchasing the baseball, Ecko held an online contest to determine its fate. Voters had three choices: put an asterisk on the ball; leave it alone; or shoot it to the moon. Around half of the ten million votes said an asterisk should be added before the balls donation. And thus became the ball you see above.

Also in this room, focusing on records and such, were some pretty incredible things. Among them was Derek Jeter’s batting gloves from his 3,000th hit game (picture 1); a cap from each of Nolan Ryan’s record seven career no-hitters (picture 2); first base from Armando Galarraga’s infamous near-perfect game (picture 3); a ball from the 2007 game in which the Rangers defeated the Orioles 30-3 (picture 4); the jersey from Roy Halladay’s postseason no-hitter in 2010 (picture 5); and, my personal favorite item, possibly of the entire museum, the glove Willie Mays used to make “The Catch” in the 1954 World Series (picture 6):

Baseball

In all, I took more pictures in this one section of the museum than any other section. It was truly amazing stuff.

Towards the end of items on the third floor was a display with memorabilia solely from the 2014 World Series between the Giants and the Royals. Watching every single inning on T.V. as it happened, is was awesome to see some items from the series in person. But the one thing that stood out the most was rookie pitcher Yordano Ventura’s cap that he wore for his game six start:

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In addition to being a standout item because of the great outing Ventura had, it’s the inscription on the cap that makes it stand out the most. After the tragic death of 22-year-old Cardinals’ prospect, Oscar Taveras, Ventura took to the mound with “RIP O.T # 18″ written on his hat as a tribute to his native Dominican Republic friend. It was touching on T.V., and even more so in person.

Once we had viewed all there was to see on the third floor, my grandpa, dad and I headed down the street to grab a bite of lunch at a nearby restaurant before returning to continue walking around the Hall of Fame. Believe it or not, after over three hours spent at the Hall (and after 35 pictures and 2,000 words in this blog post), there was still more to see and do.

After returning to the Hall of Fame, we headed over to an art exhibit, which normally isn’t my thing but really intrigued me this time around. Following that, we headed through a room dedicated to this year’s Hall of Fame inductees — Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux — before arriving to the Hall of Fame’s main point of interest: The Hall of Fame Gallery:

DSCN7618With the current number of Hall of Famers standing at 306 total people — 211 players, 35 negro leaguers, 28 executives, 22 managers and 10 umpires — there were a lot of plaques to cover, but we made our way around to every single one.

As with every part of the museum, there were a few portions (in this case, people) that stood out the most.

The first of such was the inaugural class of five plaques (located at the far end of the picture above), being of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson, all of which were inducted in 1936 — three years before the Hall of Fame’s opening in 1939:

DSCN7636Standing out as a member of the Hall of Fame that isn’t necessarily as known as the everyday players such as Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Cy Young, etc., was Wesley Branch Rickey (left), accompanied by Jackie Robinson (right):

Robinson

Rickey was the person who brought Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers in 1945, making him the first African American player to break baseball’s color barrier when he made his debut two years later.

Another lesser known member is Effa Manley — the only woman in the baseball Hall of Fame:

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Manley was greatly involved in the Negro Leagues as the only woman owner among an industry of male owners. Her induction came in 2006 as a “reflection of her commitment to baseball and civil rights”.

One last person who is more known for what he did than who he was is Bill Veeck:

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Mostly known for his stunt of bringing the shortest player in MLB history to the plate in 1951 — 3 foot 7 inch tall Eddie Gaedel — Veeck made a major impact on the game, stating, “I try not to break the rules but merely to test their elasticity”.

Upon completion of viewing all of the plaques, we made a brief stop by the gift shop, where I picked up a T-shirt and a magnet to commemorate my second trip and first successful visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Following that, after half a dozen hours or so spent at the Hall of Fame, my dad, grandpa and I swung by historic Doubleday Field, which was covered in snow . . . :

DSCN7686. . . before making our way out of town and back to our hotel.

I didn’t fully know what to expect from the Baseball Hall of Fame. Sometimes you can get your hopes up so high that the actual experience fails to meet those lofty expectations. But I can honestly say that the Hall of Fame completely blew away all my expectations. It was so well set up and so greatly stocked with some incredible pieces of baseball history that there was no way I could document it all — both with my camera or in this blog post.

So, if you haven’t, go see the Hall of Fame for yourself. It’s truly something that every single baseball fan should do at least once in their lifetime. You’ll never forget it.

Q and A With Bob Kendrick — N.L.B.M. President

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The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM), located in Kansas City, Missouri, was first established back in 1990, originally functioning out of a one-room office. The museum has since grown in size, currently housed in a 10,000 square foot facility, in the heart of the KC Jazz district.

For the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, its main purpose is to preserve the history of African-American baseball, by continuing to provide those who visit with insight into the Negro Leagues. Not wanting to duplicate the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the NLBM acknowledges all Negro League players, instead of singling out the ones who had the biggest overall impact.

The most unique portion of the museum is the Field of Legends. A baseball diamond commemorating 10 of the first Negro League players to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, for their Negro Leagues careers, the Field of Legends is made up of life sized bronze statues, of the players as they would have been seen on the field:

FieldofLegends1

Martin Dihigo in the batters box, Josh Gibson behind the plate, Buck Leonard at first, John Henry “Pop” Lloyd at second, William “Judy” Johnson at short stop, Ray Dandridge at third, Cool Papa Bell in left field, Oscar Charleston in center field, Leon Day in right field and Satchel Paige on the mound. 

President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Bob Kendrick, took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) Unlike the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, which honors the best to ever play the game, the NLBM honors all Negro League players, regardless of their career statistics. Why did the NLBM decide to go about it that way rather than just include those players who had the biggest impact in the negro leagues?

It was far more important for us (NLBM) to preserve, celebrate and educate the public to a forgotten chapter of baseball and American history than it was to focus only on the stars of the Negro Leagues. The story of the Negro Leagues has never been properly documented in the pages of American history books, and collectively we felt that a museum dedicated to the entire story would have the most impact. The story itself is much bigger than the game of baseball. Baseball is merely a premise for more grandiose story of economic empowerment, leadership and ultimately the social advancement of America. It’s an all-en-composing history lesson. Our visitors not only witness the rise and subsequent fall of the Negro Leagues but they are able to simultaneously parallel the social rise of America.

By the time we established, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, through its Veterans Committee, had already started to recognize the exploits of some of the Negro Leagues biggest stars, so there was no need to duplicate or replicate what the Hall was already doing. The late Buck O’Neil was very passionate about the fact that there had already been enough separation in the game, and that the Hall of Fame was the proper place for all the people who made great contributions to our sport. So, as an institution, we became advocates for those who played in the Negro Leagues for inclusion in the Hall of Fame. Of course, there was no greater advocate for inclusion than O’Neil.

2.) Since the museum’s opening in 1990, how has it grown in both physical size as well as the amount of historical information it provides on the history of the negro leagues?

We established the NLBM in a tiny, one-room office located in the historic 18th & Vine Jazz district in 1990. The late Buck O’Neil and Horace Peterson (who also established the Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City), along with other former Negro League players living in the area, literally took turns to pay the monthly rent to keep those hopes and dreams of some day building an institution that would pay tribute to this inspiring and important chapter of American history. At that time, we had a few artifacts collected, but we knew from the onset that it would be the story that would drive this project. In November of 1997, we moved into our current home in the Museums at 18th & Vine (the American Jazz Museum is also a part of the complex), and now offers 10,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space. Negro League players and their families have generously donated items for display that helped bring the story to life and we’re constantly on the hunt for other pieces to add to our collection.

3.) Who’s the biggest name (baseball player, or general celebrity) to have ever visited the NLBM?

It’s tough to narrow it down to one, because we’ve been fortunate to welcome so many amazing celebrities through the years, including two American presidents in Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and other dignitaries such as: Retired Gen. Colin Powell and the First Lady Michelle Obama; legendary sports stars such as Jim Brown, Oscar Robinson, Barry Bonds, Frank Robinson, Dave Winfield, Ozzie Smith and Kareem Abdul Jabbar; entertainers such as Geddy Lee, Harry Belafonte, Billy Dee Williams and Laurence Fishbourne. But my personal favorite was getting the opportunity to tour my idol, Hank Aaron. Mr. Aaron, of course, played in the Negro Leagues in 1952 with the Indianapolis Clowns before signing with the Boston Braves.

As a kid growing up in Georgia, I was, and still am, a big Braves fan. His epic chase of Babe Ruth’s home run record is still a milestone of my childhood, and when he hit the record-breaking home run, I remember circling the bases with him in the living room of our house and not being able to sleep that night because I was so excited for him. I met him for the first time in Denver, CO at the All-Star Game in 1998. The next year, MLB was celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Mr. Aaron’s breaking of Ruth’s record and in partnership with the Kansas City Royals, we were able to arrange a tour of the NLBM. Buck O’Neil was out of town and I drew the assignment of touring my idol. It’s the only time I’ve ever been nervous giving a celebrity tour. Afterwards, I joined Mr. Aaron and his wife, Billye, for Gates BBQ. I still consider it to be my greatest day in baseball!

4.) What’s something that a lot of people don’t know about the history of the negro leagues that you feel they should?

That they successfully operated for 40 years (1920-60). Most people assume that after Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier that the Negro Leagues surely would have ended soon after that historic occurrence. It took MLB 12 years before every team had at least one Black player, with the Boston Red Sox being the last to integrate when the club signed Pumpsie Green in 1959. By 1960, the Negro Leagues ceased operations.

5.) Staying on the same general topic, nearly everyone knows who Jackie Robinson was, with many baseball fans having heard of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. Who are some of the lesser known players that played a big role in the history of the negro leagues?

You’re right; Paige, Gibson and Cool Papa Bell became mainstream names from the Negro Leagues, but there were so many great players that most fans have not heard about. Guys like:

Wilbur “Bullet” Rogan: Rogan began playing in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1920, and was one of the League’s first superstars. He was a legendary pitcher who earned his nickname “bullet” for his blazing fastball. Rogan was a tremendous athlete and when he wasn’t pitching he often hit clean up in the Monarchs batting order and played the outfield. He led the Monarchs to the inaugural World Series title in 1924. Rogan is now rightfully enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Oscar Charleston: Buck O’Neil called Charleston the “greatest baseball player he had ever seen.” Charleston was a do-it-all center fielder who began playing in the Negro Leagues with the Indianapolis ABCs. He excelled in every facet of the game and the old-timers in the Negro Leagues say that he was “Willie Mays before we ever knew who Mays was.” He combined the defensive of abilities of Tris Speaker, the tenacity of Ty Cobb and the bat of Babe Ruth, into one dynamite package.

Hilton Smith: Perhaps the greatest pitcher few people know anything about. Smith was a star pitcher for the Kansas City Monarchs who was somewhat overshadowed by his charismatic teammate, Satchel Paige. Smith was every bit as good. The quiet, reserved Texan won 20 games or more in 12-consecutive years for the Monarchs, and was 6-1 in exhibition games against Major Leaguers.

Martin Dihigo: Nicknamed “El Maestro”, Dihigo was born in Cuba and is the most versatile player in baseball history. He could play all nine positions, and play them well. Dihigo is the only baseball player to be enshrined in five different countries’ baseball Hall of Fames: Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic and United States.

6.) What’s your personal favorite portion of the museum? Why?

The Field of Legends. Naturally, I’m biased, but I think it is one of the most compelling displays in any museum anywhere in the world. The Field of Legends is a mock baseball diamond that houses 10 of 12 life size bronze sculptures of Negro League greats, cast in position as if they are playing a game. The statues on the field represent 10 of the first group of Negro League players to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame for their Negro Leagues careers. The exhibition flows around the field, so our visitors can see the field, but they can’t walk out among those legendary baseball players until they’ve learned the history, at which time you’ve earned the right to “take the field” with 10 of the greatest baseball players to ever put on a uniform.

7.) What advice would you give to first time visitors of the NLBM, when it comes to how they should go about their self guided tour?

If possible, try to allot at least 90 minutes for the tour so that you can take in our featured videos in the Grandstand and Diamond Theaters. You could easily spend an entire day because there’s a great deal to enjoy. Artifacts, multimedia displays and fascinating text panels that set the tone for what America was like, but also triumphantly quantifies the passion, pride, perseverance that America’s unsung baseball heroes demonstrated in the face of adversity that ultimately changed our game but more importantly, changed our country.

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Big thanks to Bob Kendrick for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @nlbmprez

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