KANSAS CITY -- Close your eyes and picture Lou Brock turning into a blur with a well-timed jump and a steal of second base. Or Joe Morgan flapping his elbow and sending a liner into the gap. Picture Dave Winfield sending a majestic drive over the wall or the late Roberto Clemente making one of his patented bullet throws from right field.
To be sure, those four Major League greats exhibited extraordinary skills on the baseball field. But there was more to it than that. Brock, Morgan, Winfield and Clemente also played with the joy, flair and passion that exemplified the Negro Leagues and set them up to be the founding class of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum's new "Hall of Game."
Thirteen months after the final Legacy Awards dinner, the NLBM -- with the aid of community partners -- has come up with an honors program that celebrates the former greats of the Major Leagues while simultaneously honoring those who came before them in the Negro Leagues.
"This is truly a historic and proud day as we continue our efforts to celebrate the heritage of baseball," NLBM president Bob Kendrick said. "The Hall of Game celebrates both the style and substance of the Negro Leagues, which represented professional baseball at its absolute finest. Our inaugural class of Major League inductees were all, in their unique ways, connected to the Negro Leagues experience. Their play was reflective and reminiscent of that common thread and we're delighted to welcome them into the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum."
The inaugural induction ceremonies are planned for April 12 at the Gem Theater, located across the street from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. The festivities, which will launch an NLBM awareness celebration leading up to Jackie Robinson Day on April 15, include a press conference, VIP meet-and-greet, reception and dinner at the NLBM. Hy-Vee, Inc. is the event's presenting sponsor.
In announcing the formation of the Hall of Game, Kendrick recalled the words of the late Negro Leagues legend Buck O'Neil, who often talked with great enthusiasm about the excitement level at a Negro Leagues game.
"Buck said, 'You couldn't go to the concession stand because you might miss something that you've never seen before.' That's the spirit of what this celebration is all about," Kendrick added.
It wasn't a good idea to head for the concession stand when Brock, Morgan, Winfield and Clemente were in the middle of the action, either.
Brock, who was scouted by O'Neil and has often talked about O'Neil being a father figure to him, helped the Cardinals to three National League pennants and two world championships in 1964 and '67 as the left fielder and leadoff hitter. He finished a 19-year career with 938 stolen bases and 3,023 hits.
Morgan was a back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player Award winner as a slick second baseman with the World Series champion Cincinnati Reds in 1975 and '76. Winfield was an All-Star outfielder 12 times and finished with 465 homers and 3,110 hits. Clemente, another member of the 3,000 hit club with the Pittsburgh Pirates, won four batting titles and 12 consecutive Gold Glove Awards. He was the National League MVP in 1966.
The Hall of Game plans were unveiled on the 94th birthday of the Negro Leagues. On Feb. 13, 1920, Andrew "Rube" Foster established the Negro National League at the Paseo YMCA.
Prominent business and civic leaders in Kansas City have formed a committee to create awareness and sponsor the Hall of Game induction event. Bob Page, president and CEO of the University of Kansas Hospital, is serving as chairman of the committee.
"This is not just a baseball museum," Page said. "This is an American history museum. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is a true gem and the Hall of Game concept will help ensure the museum's impact continues to be felt not only in Kansas City but around the country."
While the inaugural Hall of Game class will feature four former players, Kendrick said there is currently no set number for future induction classes.
"The Negro Leagues built a bridge," Kendrick said. "This event celebrates those who crossed over the bridge."
Robert Falkoff is a contributor to MLB.com.