NLBM to celebrate Negro League HOFers

December 21st, 2021

Christmas came early for Negro League Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick. It was Dec. 5, in fact, when the Early Baseball Era Committee (pre-1950) elected Buck O’Neil and Bud Fowler to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the Gold Days Era Committee (covering 1950-69) elected Minnie Miñoso and three others.

“I’m still basking in the glow of everything that has really transpired over the course of this year,” Kendrick said via telephone. “What a great way for us to finish this year with three Negro Leaguers being voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, including our very own Buck O’Neil.

“This, we believe will propel us into an amazing 2022. I think it’s going to be the most important year in recent museum history. … It takes it to another level. I've been smiling since 5:30 on Dec. 5, when Josh Rawitch [president of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum] made it official.”

All three legends are prominently featured at NLBM. O’Neil was a great first baseman and manager for the Kansas City Monarchs, and later became the founder and chairman of NLBM as well as a legendary ambassador for baseball.

Fowler was a barrier breaker. Not only did he play and manage Black baseball teams during the turn of the 20th century, he was also one of the first African Americans to play professional baseball (in the Minor Leagues) with white players during the 19th century.

Showcased by the museum is a handwritten letter Fowler sent to White Sox owner Charles Comiskey in April 1908. This letter was written after Fowler’s playing career ended, congratulating the White Sox on winning games in the Northeast. The Fowler letter was acquired because of the support of Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, who made a joint $1 million contribution to the museum in February 2020.

As for Miñoso, he not only made his mark with the New York Cubans of the Negro National League, he had an impact in the Major Leagues, having played most of his career with the White Sox.

Miñoso is part of the “Beisbol Exhibit” at the Museum. It celebrates the relationships between the Negro Leagues and Spanish speaking countries around the globe. NLBM dedicated the exhibit to Miñoso after he passed away in 2015. The exhibit will be traveling around the United States in '22.

Next year will mark the 75th anniversary of the breaking of the color barrier in the Major Leagues, starting with Jackie Robinson joining the Dodgers in 1947. NLBM will launch a traveling exhibition called Barrier Breakers. The plan is to take the permanent installation at the museum and convert it into a traveling exhibition. Miñoso will be part of that story. After all, he was the first Black player to integrate with the White Sox in 1951.

“Most folks know Jackie’s story. … But I think it’s important that we don’t forget those trailblazers, as well,” Kendrick said.

According to Kendrick, O’Neil didn’t want NLBM to be about him, but there is a life-size statue of him at the museum. Also on display is O’Neil’s Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was presented by George W. Bush. There will be a traveling exhibition called “I Was Right On Time: The Buck O’Neil story,” based on the book of the same name.

NLBM is building the Buck O'Neil Education and Research Center at the Paseo YMCA, where the Negro National League was founded on Feb. 13, 1920. Kendrick is hoping the center will open in November, when they plan to have a Hall of Fame celebration for O’Neil in Kansas City.

“I’m so excited because it’s only going to help us. We must leverage this opportunity, so we can raise the resources necessary to not only complete the building, but also start the process securing the long-term future of the Negro League Baseball Museum. We have a lot of things we can leverage that we hope will appeal to the funding community as we embark on this next phase of growth for the Negro League Baseball Museum.”

Fans can visit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City on East 18th Street, between Vine Street and Highland Avenue, just across from the Gem Theater. The museum will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday with increased sanitizing every day. Masks are still required when one enters the Museum.

During the upcoming holidays, NLBM will be open on Christmas Eve from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. CT, but closed on Christmas Day. Fans can go to NLBM on New Year's Eve from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., but it will be closed on the first day of 2022.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is a privately funded, non-profit organization. Annually renewing memberships to support the museum are available, ranging from $25 to $1,000. Membership includes free admission for the year, a 10% discount on merchandise from the NLBM Extra Inning Store and advance information on special events. Members also receive a gift and additional benefits at each level of support.