It’s time for my periodic reminder that one of the best civil rights museums in the country is here in Kansas City. Also one of the best baseball museums. And both exist in one place – the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. If you have not been, it’s time to go. If you have, it’s time for a refresher.
For a second opinion, I call upon Royals managing owner John Sherman. In 2020, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Negro Leagues, Sherman said…
“While this story is about baseball on one hand, it is a story that transcends baseball. When I walk through the museum, I think about the courage of these people and the risks they took…Today, standing on hallowed ground, the feeling I am most left with is gratitude. Gratitude that we have this treasure with us, right here in Kansas City. Gratitude that the Negro Leagues and the Monarchs are part of our legacy, and that the Kansas City Royals have the privilege of being up close to their extraordinary history.”
And the hits keep on coming. The museum is off to a grand start in 2023.
For Rita and me, it began this year on January 5 at Tom’s Town in the Crossroads for the annual holiday party for the Monarchs Club, a booster organization for the museum. Below, Rita and I with NLBM President, Bob Kendrick. Photo by Jerry Lockett, the loyal photographer always present at NLBM events.
Free February – A Gift From the Royals: For the second year, to celebrate Black History Month, the Kansas City Royals and Royals Charities are covering the cost of admission for all visitors to the museum in February.
Bob Kendrick advises that busloads of school children and many families have poured into the museum during the month. Kudos to the Royals for this gift to the city.
Undeniable – Stories from the Negro Leagues: In February, Major League Baseball launched its first-ever animated series, a “contemporary storytelling platform to amplify the honor and legacy of the Negro Leagues.” The series is a collaborative project among MLB, the NLBM and Black-owned creative entities.
The three episodes – each approximately five minutes in length – are narrated by Bob Kendrick and are available online. “Women of the Negro Leagues” (click here); “International Impact” (click here); and “Jackie Robinson and Monte Irvin” (click here).
They are all good, but I want to emphasize the “International Impact.” Most of the players from the states heading to the Caribbean for winter ball in the 1930s and 1940s were from the Negro Leagues. They expanded interest in the sport and were welcomed as equals (no Jim Crow). In reverse, Afro-Latinos from the Caribbean could only play in the Negro Leagues in the states. Negro Leaguers were also pioneers in playing exhibitions in Japan. Conclusion: Negro Leaguers were instrumental in making baseball an international sport. Good stuff from one of baseball’s best storytellers.
MLB: The Show: The sole MLB simulation video game on the market is MLB: The Show.
Disclosure: The last video game I played was Pac Man in a bar, decades ago. So I know nothing about PlayStation, X-Box, etc., but I hear this is all very popular.
The big add for 2023 is a new game experience celebrating the Negro Leagues.
Below are the eight featured players. There are “Storylines” within the game narrated by Bob Kendrick. Click here for the one on night baseball (the Negro Leagues had it five years before MLB).
For those of you who play (station), let me know if you like it.
103rd Anniversary Event – Leadership Discussion: The Negro Leagues were founded in Kansas City on February 13, 1920, at the YMCA at 19th and Paseo. The superb leader of the effort was Rube Foster who proclaimed on behalf of the league, “We are the ship, all else the sea,” a pledge to set their own course in the world of baseball.
Per Bob Kendrick…“It was really all Rube Foster. He took the leadership role here. He had booking rights for four of the original teams. Essentially, he cut a deal with the other organizers of the Negro Leagues and divested those booking rights for three of the teams, kept the Chicago American Giants, then became president of the Negro Leagues.”
This past Monday, to celebrate the 103rd anniversary of the founding, the NLBM held a forum on leadership in that same YMCA building, which is now the home of NLBM’s Buck O’Neil Educational and Research Center.
Kendrick moderated the forum and interviewed the three panelists: KCMO Mayor Quinton Lucas, KCK Mayor Tyrone Garner and Jackson County Executive Frank White. The forum was held in an event space that was formerly the YMCA gymnasium – Frank informed us that he played basketball here as a kid.
All three panelists provided insights on leadership and echoed Bob Kendrick’s belief, “Negro Leagues baseball has not been played in over six decades, yet its relevance is as meaningful today than ever before.” Rube Foster and the Negro Leagues showed the benefits of risk taking, providing an example, motivation and perseverance in leading their community. Just like elected officials must do in serving their constituency. The full forum is available at this link.
In the photo above, the speakers, from the left, Lucas, Garner, White and Kendrick. I also chose this photo to illustrate the type of male pattern baldness known as crown thinning. See the spectator in the lower left corner. Me.
Satchel Paige, Pat/Patrick Mahomes and the Super Bowl: Thanks to Patrick Mahomes, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum became part of Super Bowl Week. At a press conference, Mahomes praised the museum, Satchel Paige, Bob Kendrick and the new MLB: The Show video game. Click here.
Patrick was schooled on this long before he came to Kansas City. When his father Pat was growing up, his favorite players were Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson and Satchel Paige. As recounted in an excellent article by Rustin Dodd in the Athletic last week:
“Like Paige, [Pat] Mahomes became a pitcher, and as he made his way to the major leagues, debuting with the Minnesota Twins in 1992, he felt a special kinship with his childhood hero. He toyed with Paige’s different windups, tried to mimic his delivery, and when his first son was born in 1995, near the start of his career, he passed along the stories. Which is how Patrick Mahomes first came to know about Satchel Paige.”
Patrick’s take on Negro Leaguers, “You see the creativity that they had. They obviously played at such a high level, but they enjoyed it while they did. That’s what you see with me on the football field.”
Mahomes has been to the museum several times and often sports a Satchel Paige jersey. For the Super Bowl, Satch returned the respect on the Field of Legends at the NLBM.
At the State Capitol Building: Bob was recently in Jeff City to meet with legislators. The state has been supportive of the museum for many years. Bob tweeted that he “as customary, swung by the Hall of Famous Missourians to see my friend, Buck O’Neil. He never ages!”
Ray Doswell’s Next Chapter: Ray Doswell, vice president of curatorial services at the NLBM, has moved on to a new position as the Executive Director of Greenwood Rising, a year-old museum that is a remembrance of the May 31, 1921, mob attack that obliterated a bustling, cultural haven for Blacks in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
For the last 27 years, Ray has been instrumental in all matters related to the archives, research, education, collections and exhibits at the museum. He is without doubt one of the leading experts in the field. At a personal level for me, he has always been a welcoming presence at NLBM events and a valued resource for Hot Stove posts.
Ray, thanks for what you have done for us in Kansas City, and best of luck in your new chapter.
The Negro Leagues and the Royals of 1969/1970: When General Manager Cedric Tallis was assembling the original Royals roster in 1969, he primarily relied on the expansion and amateur drafts. He and his staff supplemented those picks with purchases of players from other teams, and one was George Spriggs who they acquired from Pittsburgh. Other than some brief callups, Spriggs had mostly played in the Pirates minor league system from 1963 to 1968.
Spriggs played for the Royals farm team in Omaha in 1969 and 1970, and he was named MVP of the American Association in 1970. He had callups to the parent team during both seasons, playing in 74 major league games for the Royals. Those were his last years in the majors.
While Spriggs’ time with the Royals was short, he holds a unique distinction. George Spriggs is the only Royals player in club history who once played in the Negro Leagues. Before joining the Pirates in 1963, Spriggs played for the Kansas City Monarchs (by then only a barnstorming team) and the Detroit Stars.
Lonnie’s Jukebox – Recent News Edition: Here are some selections from artists recently in the news.
Roberta Flack: In January, Rita and I watched the PBS American Masters presentation on Roberta Flack. Two thumbs up from us. Now streaming on PBS Passport (free to KCUR members). Trailer here.
Flack, now 84, has had a long and successful career, including these two #1 songs:
“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack (1972). This song exploded in popularity after Clint Eastwood used it in the 1971 movie Play Misty For Me. Atlantic Records quickly issued the album track as a single in 1972, and it went to #1 for six weeks.
“Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Roberta Flack (1973). In 1971, singer Lori Lieberman went to a Don McLean performance at the Troubadour in L.A. This was when his “American Pie” was starting to rise in the charts. Another McLean song prompted her to create some lyrics on a napkin, and those were later enhanced by her music partners to create “Killing Me Softly With His Song.” Lieberman’s single was released in 1972, but it did not chart. Roberta Flack heard Lieberman’s version while listening to the airline audio on a plane, liked it, and recorded a cover that was released in 1973 and went to #1.
Barrett Strong: This Motown pioneer died in January at the age of 81. He had the first hit to chart for Motown Records – “Money (That’s All I Want)” peaked at #23 in 1960 and was his only hit as a performer (a “One-Hit Wonder”).
But he had many huge hits as a songwriter with his producer partner Norman Whitfield. A partial list: “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Gladys Knight & The Pips (#2 in 1967) and Marvin Gaye (#1 in 1968), “War” by Edwin Starr (What is it good for?) and a long line of “psychedelic soul” records by the Temptations.
“Money (That’s All I Want)” by Barrett Strong (1960). The song has been covered by many artists, including versions by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Jerry Lee Lewis.
“Just My Imagination” by the Temptations (1971). A #1 hit, as were two other Strong/Whitfield songs for the group, “I Can’t Get Next To You” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.”
Burt Bacharach: The famous songwriter, composer, producer and pianist died this month at age 94. He wrote way too many songs for me to list here, so I’m going to focus on his Kansas City connection. Richard Martin gave me a heads-up that Bacharach was born in Kansas City. So I checked it out, and some local articles had more info. After being born here in 1928, Bacharach’s family moved to New York City when Burt was still a toddler. He has no real memory of KC, but KC newspaper The Pitch found that the Bacharach family lived on Warwick Boulevard.
As in Dionne Warwick who sang some of Bacharach’s top hits. Let’s play a couple.
“Walk On By” by Dionne Warwick (1964).
“I Say a Little Prayer” by Dionne Warwick (1967).
Huey “Piano” Smith: This R&B piano player out of New Orleans died this month at the age of 89. When I read the obit, I was transported back to high school. Two records I remember from then…
“Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” by Huey “Piano” Smith and The Clowns, as he and his band were known (1957). This song appeared in Lonnie’s Jukebox during the early days of Covid.
“Don’t You Just Know It” by Huey “Piano” Smith and The Clowns (1958). Their biggest hit, peaking at #9. I still have my 45 rpm record, and here it is…