Kendrick remembers 'childhood idol' Aaron

January 22nd, 2021

Baseball legend and Hall of Famer , who died Friday at age 86, played just three months in the Negro Leagues with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1952 before being acquired by the Boston Braves for $10,000. But his ties to and impact on the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and its president, Bob Kendrick, were deep and meaningful.

Aaron was an idol for Kendrick, as he was for many. But he also was a dear friend. Kendrick first met Aaron in 1999. Major League Baseball was celebrating the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s career home run record. The Royals were playing host to Aaron and his wife, Billye, and the couple visited the NLBM.

The legendary Buck O’Neil, the founder of the museum, was out of town. Guess who got to give a tour of the museum to his childhood idol? It was Kendrick, who grew up idolizing Aaron while growing up in Crawfordville, Ga., 85 miles east of Atlanta.

It was a Saturday afternoon, and it was the first and only time Kendrick was starstruck. Kendrick was reduced to the 12-year-old kid who pretended to circle the bases in his mother’s living room when Aaron hit the record-setting home run against the Dodgers on April 8, 1974.

“It was one of the most amazing experiences that I ever had. It is still my all-time favorite tour with anyone,” Kendrick said. “We’ve had American presidents. We’ve had all kinds of dignitaries, famous athletes. As I said with no disrespect to any of them, they are not Henry Aaron in my eyes. To have the opportunity to tour him was as meaningful and significant for me as I can ever remember.”

After the tour, Aaron went to the Gem Theatre and had a conversation with fans. The Theatre was filled to the rafters, and the conversation was riveting. Aaron talked about the challenges of chasing Ruth’s record with all the angst that was on him -- the death threats and racism and everything that went into it. It took him 25 years to celebrate what many thought to be the greatest sports accomplishment.

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After the session with fans ended, Aaron, Billye and Kendrick went to Gates Bar-B-Q for dinner.

“We had a plate of Gates barbecue ribs and all the other good stuff that comes along with it,” Kendrick said. “I got to sit down with my childhood idol. It doesn’t get any better than that. Without question, that was my greatest day in baseball.”

The last time Aaron was at the NLBM was in 2012, when Kauffman Stadium hosted the All-Star Game. Aaron, along with Frank Robinson and Dave Winfield, held a conversation at the museum that was supposed to last for a few minutes. But Kendrick had to end it just so he could open the museum.

“You could see the reverence that Dave had for both of them. It was amazing,” Kendrick said.