2020 Visit KC Official Guide - 24

PILSEN PHOTO CO-OP

DEREK SLAGLE

BEYOND
BASEBALL

America's pastime has a rich history in KC as the
birthplace of the Negro Leagues, celebrating 100
years in 2020.

BY DIANA LAMBDIN MEYER

ANNA PETROW

Bob Kendrick, NLBM President

24

Visit KC 2020

is left foot up on a concrete
step and arm across his knee,
Buck O'Neil leans forward
and surveys the field of players before him. With the starting lineup in
one hand and a studied look on his face,
Buck appears to have no patience for the
fans who snuggle up close for a selfie with
the former Monarchs player and manager.
It's a pose anyone familiar with baseball recognizes in a seasoned player, and
one so lifelike for the great Buck O'Neil.
Except Buck always spared a moment for
photos and a smile for those who loved
the game as he did. Buck always had a
smile.
The baseball icon died in 2006, but for
anyone who doubts his spirit is not prevalent in Kansas City: Just watch the throngs
of visitors who snap photos of and with
his bronze statue at the Negro Leagues
Baseball Museum (NLBM), the museum
he helped build.
Now a popular spot for visiting
athletes and dignitaries, the institution
opened in 1997, but this year marks a
monumental moment for the museum
and what it represents. One hundred
years ago, on February 13, 1920, the
Negro National League and Kansas City
Monarchs were formed in a local YMCA

building-now the site of the John "Buck"
O'Neil Education and Research Center.
Before 1920, and ever since the
Emancipation Proclamation, there had
been attempts at organizing professional
baseball among individuals who'd been
freed to play the game when and where
they liked. Those attempts withered and
failed, but Rube Foster-a pitcher and part
owner of the Chicago American Giants-
modeled the new Negro National League
more closely to Major League Baseball
(MLB). And, by working with J.L. Wilkinson,
a white man, Foster guaranteed access
to stadiums that had previously been
closed to African-American players.
Foster became known as the Father of
Black Baseball.
Yet the story at the NLBM in Kansas
City's 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District
begins earlier than Foster's success. In a
video narrated by actor James Earl Jones,
visitors learn the name Moses Fleetwood
Walker, who played two seasons for the
Toledo Blue Stockings, an MLB team at
the time. By the end of his tenure with the
team, Walker had endured countless incidents of physical and verbal abuse from
teammates and other players, and no
white team would play the Blue Stockings
while Walker was on the team.
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