Q&A w/ Negro League Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick

Posted on October 19, 2011

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By Jeremy Sickel and Geoff Ratliff

Q: When did you take over as president of the NLBM and why were you drawn to the position?

A: The announcement was made in March and my first official day on the job was April 11. I literally hit the ground running. The great thing, however, is that my familiarity with the organization and staff from my prior twelve-year association with the museum, has made for a quick transition.

Q: What was the first major task on your agenda upon taking on the role?

A: The first major task was developing a plan to celebrate Buck O’Neil’s 100th birthday. It’s a tremendous milestone. And while Buck is no longer physically with us, his spirit looms large in the baseball world and his legacy plays on at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. We see his 100th as a prime opportunity to rally increased support for the museum, or as I like to call it, “the house that Buck built.”

Q: What is your favorite part of the museum?

A: Overall, the museum is a special place, but the centerpiece of the exhibition is the “Field of Legends.” It is a mock-baseball diamond that features ten life-size bronze sculptures cast in position as if they were playing a game. The statues represent ten of the first group of Negro Leaguers to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. It’s one of the most breathtaking displays in any museum in the world.

Q: Tell us something that people may not know about the museum.

A: Most people don’t know that the museum has been in operation for twenty-one years. Most know us from when we opened our current home in November of 1997. But the NLBM actually started in 1990 and operated from a tiny, one-room office where Buck and other former local Negro Leaguers took turns paying the monthly rent to keep the office open and with it, our dreams of building an institution that would pay rightful respect to one of the great chapters in baseball and American history.

Q: Why is the museum based in Kansas City and why is this the best place for it to be located?

A: Kansas City is the birthplace of the Negro Leagues.The Leagues were established in Kansas City in 1920 when Rube Foster and seven other independent Black baseball team owners met at the Paseo YMCA. Out of that meeting came the birth of the Negro National League, the first organized professional Black League. So, it is only fitting that a museum dedicated to this piece of history would operate in Kansas City…just two blocks from the Paseo YMCA.

Q: For those that have never visited, give them some reasons they should do so.

A: The story of the Negro Leagues is America at her worst, but also America at her triumphant best.That story is fully documented at the NLBM and comes to life through an amazing collection of artifacts, videos and interactive multi-media displays.Our visitors come to KC expecting to meet some of the greatest baseball players to ever play the game and they are not disappointed. But by the time they leave the NLBM, they walk away cheering the power of the human spirit and will have gained an even greater appreciation for just how wonderful America is.

Q: How does being connected to the American Jazz Museum help bring more attention to the NLBM?

A: The combination of the NLBM and American Jazz Museums under one roof offers one of the most unique cultural experiences anywhere in the world and it’s unique to Kansas City. It really was a natural fit. Baseball and Jazz went hand-in-hand during that era of segregation. Kansas City was a cultural crossroads for both art forms.The two supported each other tremendously. You would constantly see jazz entertainers at Negro League games by day and by night the ballplayers were in the clubs supporting their counterparts. They really were a close-knit group who had a mutual admiration for each other’s talent.

Q: Why is the history of the Negro Leagues so important to the overall story of baseball in America?

A: The Negro Leagues simply helped make the game better. You’ll never find a greater example of “love of the game” than the story of the Negro Leagues. These athletes loved the game so much that they were willing to deal with whatever social adversity that confronted them as they traveled across the country to play baseball. That passion would not only change the game, but America too. So while it is an important part of baseball history, the Negro Leagues more importantly are an amazing part of American history.

Q: Other than the promotion of Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers, Is there another pivotal moment in Negro League history that resonates with you?

A: It starts with the establishment of the Negro Leagues in 1920 and Rube Foster having a clear understanding that if Black Baseball was going to succeed it had to have an organized structure. Another milestone would be Gus Greenlee’s development of the East-West All-Star Game as a rival to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. The East-West Game would draw more than 50,000 fans to Chicago’s Commiskey Park. It was one of the greatest sporting events in American sports history.

Q: Who is your favorite Negro League player of all time and why?

A: Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson are probably 1a and 1b on my list. There’s probably no more lore and legend surrounding any two athletes with Paige and Gibson. Both are of mythic proportion, but if I had to choose a favorite, it would have to be Satchel. His talent, charisma and longevity in the sport separate him from everyone in my book.

Q: What role did Buck O’Neil play in the development of the museum and the game of baseball as a whole.

A: Buck was the co-founder of the NLBM along with the late Horace Peterson. He served as chairman of the organization for 16 years before his death in 2006. In many ways, he was the heart and soul of this great museum. But Buck easily ranks as one of the most important figures in baseball history. His illustrious career, from the Negro Leagues to the Majors, spanned seven decades covering the full spectrum—player, manager, scout and barrier-breaking coach—and helped make him one of the leading authorities on the sport. But it was his tireless and passionate work to build the NLBM along with his charismatic personality and compassionate spirit that endeared him to a legion of fans worldwide.

Q: Crystal Ball time – who wins the World Series?

A: Both Tony LaRussa and Ron Washington are friends of the NLBM so this is a tough one. We love both clubs, but I give the Texas Rangers a slight edge!

Support the NLBM’s Buck 100 Campaign now through November 13th

Posted in: Interviews, MLB