No player or team in Negro League has played a game in more than six decades, but Bob Kendrick and others at Kansas City’s Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) are keeping its legacy alive.
Kendrick served as the museum’s first Director of Marketing in 1998 and was named Vice President of Marketing in 2009. He’s served as NLBM president since 2011, responsible for the museum’s day-to-day operations, and has helped orchestrate a nearly $20 million turnaround at the NLBM.
The Georgia native told BLACK ENTERPRISE that the Negro Leagues was as much about Black entrepreneurship as it was about baseball, “because wherever you had successful Black baseball, you had thriving Black economies.”
“When Black children walk into this museum they’re seeing people who look just like them play this game as well as anyone who has ever played this game and not only did they play but they owned teams, they were managers, coaches, secretaries, and team physicians, they fulfilled every role that could be filled in the business of baseball,” Kendrick tells BLACK ENTERPRISE. “So, yes, we want our children to be introduced to this game, grow and be nurtured in this game and hope to create an opportunity for them to play this game at the major league level.
“It’s very important that the legacy of the Negro Leagues continue to play on both from a historical and educational standpoint but I truly believe the inspirational aspect of this story of triumph over adversity is what resonates with a lot of people,” Kendrick says.
Kendrick has been behind several moves inside and outside the NLBM to increase exposure and highlight the league as well as its incredible stories and players.
Last year, the NLBM unveiled its “Barrier Breakers” touring exhibit, which chronicles the players who broke their major league teams’ respective color barrier starting with Jackie Robinson in 1947 through 1959 when the Boston Red Sox signed Pumpsie Green.
“It surprises a lot of people that it took 12 years before every major league team had at least one Black player,” says Kendrick. “But that can also help you understand why the Negro League was able to operate 13 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.”
The NLBM is also building a brand new exhibit celebrating the 75th anniversary of the legendary pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige joining the Cleveland Indians (now known as the Guardians). Paige, along with outfielder Larry Doby, who broke the color barrier in the American League, helped the Guardians win its last World Series title in 1948. (That season is chronicled in Luke Epplin’s acclaimed book, Our Team.)
The exhibit will debut at the NLBM May 20. The display celebrates Paige, as well as the Black and Hispanic pitchers of the Negro Leagues who didn’t get an opportunity to play in Major League Baseball..
“We’ve done a tremendous amount of work to raise awareness and hopefully a better understanding and an appreciation for what this story represents in its entirety,” Kendrick says. “Baseball is merely a premise for a far more grandiose story. This is a story about the importance of economic empowerment; this is a story about an unprecedented level of leadership that emerged in the African American community and ultimately this is the story of the soulful advancement of America.”
The MLB and NLBM teamed up for the Undeniable animated series, which debuted in February. It featured three short stories from the historic era of the Negro Leagues, narrated by Kendrick.
Negro League players and teams including Robinson, Paige, Doby, and John “Buck” O’Neil, who founded the NLBM and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame last summer, will also be featured in the video game MLB The Show 23, which will be released on PlayStation 4 and 5 on March 28.
Kendrick, who called O’Neil a friend and mentor, said he’d given up on seeing O’Neil being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame when he missed out in 2006 by one vote.
‘I’m still smiling, I’ve been smiling now for about a year since he was inducted last July because it was so improbable,” Kendrick said.
O’Neil’s contribution to baseball is still celebrated today with a bronze statue at the Baseball Hall of Fame and with the creation of The Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award.
Kendrick NLBM will continue its mission to celebrate and educate younger Black generations about the history of the Negro League and its legacy.
“It can’t just be history for history’s sake so I have to find ways in which I can help people engage around the story,” he says. “So if it’s through an animated series or this video game, they’re going to be millions of young people—and particularly African-American kids—who are now going to learn about the Negro Leagues through a video game and so that’s what we have to do.”