Baseball is said to be as American as apple pie, but the struggles and successes of people who played in the Negro Leagues are not as well-known due to racism and segregation.
Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, has been diligently working to change that. Kendrick has helped raise $20 million to ensure financial stability for the museum.
Kendrick visited Springfield this past weekend to speak at Timmons Hall Day, an event honoring the former church turned event facility at 1055 E. Webster St.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was founded in 1990 in a one-room office and is the world’s only museum dedicated to preserving and celebrating the history of African American baseball and its impact on the country.
“It has been a tremendous journey for a little museum that no one gave a chance at succeeding,” Kendrick said.
An organized league structure was established in 1920 by Andrew “Rube” Foster, a former player, manager and owner for the Chicago American Giants.
“Wherever you had successful Black baseball, you also had thriving economies,” Kendrick said. “When we lost the Negro Leagues, we lost that catalyst that sparked economic development in the African American community.”
Negro Leagues players included Springfield’s ‘Doc’ Horn Jr.
Kendrick told the crowd of about 30 people Sunday about several of the Negro Leagues players, including Springfield’s own Herman “Doc” Horn Jr., who played for the Kansas City Monarchs from 1949 to 1954.
“He never lost where he came from and those who paved the way before him as a kid to dream about the possibility and the Negro Leagues fueled that dream, as it did for virtually every Black kid in this country,” Kendrick said about Horn. “Springfield meant the world to him.”
By the time Horn joined the Kansas City Monarchs, Jackie Robinson had already joined Major League Baseball.
“Prior to that, the only images of people that (Horn) saw playing professional baseball were people playing in the Negro Leagues, so it gave him something to aspire to,” Kendrick said.
Foster, credited with inventing and perfecting the screwball, was known as a visionary for the styles of play he instilled in Chicago American Giants’ players.
“At the turn of the century, he would fine his ball players as much as $5,” Kendrick said. “If you were tagged out standing up, you were supposed to slide.”
James Wilkinson, also known as “Wilkie,” was a white businessman who owned the Kansas City Monarchs. Kendrick said Wilkinson introduced night baseball to the game.
Because many historians don’t view the Negro Leagues as professional, several accounts list the first night game in major league baseball history as being played at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field on May 24, 1935, with the Cincinnati Reds versus Philadelphia.
Teams in the Negro Leagues were playing night games five years before that game happened, according to Kendrick. The teams were relegated to playing on Sundays, but Wilkinson put in the work to light the fields for nighttime games.
“Wilkie wasn’t doing this to be innovative; he was doing it for survival,” Kendrick said.
Josh Gibson is often called the “Black Babe Ruth,” but there are others who call Ruth the “White Josh Gibson,” Kendrick said. Gibson was slated as the “game’s greatest combination of power and average.” It’s believed that Gibson was the only man to hit a baseball out of Yankee Stadium, and he garnered nearly 1,000 home runs in his 18-year career, Kendrick said.
Martín “El Maestro” Dihigo was one of the most versatile players and was inducted into five halls of fame, including Mexican, Dominican, Venezuelan, Cuban and United States. James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell was the fastest player and ran home-to-home in 12 seconds, Kendrick said.
The oldest rookie of the game, Leroy “Satchel” Paige didn’t know his official age. Paige’s birth was recorded in the family bible, and he told folks that a goat ate the page with his information. Kendrick said Paige was either 42 or 52 years old when he joined the Cleveland Indians in 1948. Fans may recall that the team went on to win the World Series that year.
Before Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, he played for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945.
“Before he was No. 42, he was No. 5,” Kendrick said. “He fell in love with everything Kansas City is famous for ― barbecue and jazz.”
Robinson broke the color barrier when he joined the Major League Baseball, and he endured horrific treatment while doing so.
“He was called everything, but, as my mother would say, a child of God,” Kendrick said. “The opposing teams’ pitchers would often time get fined if they didn’t knock him down.”
“They did everything imaginable to break him, but Jackie would not break,” he continued.
Other players included three women: Toni Stone, who was the first of three women to play professional baseball full-time for the Indianapolis Clowns; Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, the first female pitcher to play in the Negro Leagues; and Connie Morgan, who replaced Stone on the Clowns.
Kendrick said these folks and many others dared to dream and achieved their dreams
“Our story is not about the adversity, but rather what they did to overcome the adversity,” Kendrick said. “That story transcends races, it transcends age and it transcends gender.”
At the end of the day, most folks just wanted to play baseball.
“Negro Leagues embodies the American spirit,” Kendrick said.
Timmons Hall Day
History and Engagement Coordinator Christine Peoples said she wanted the event to celebrate the community, and baseball was a good way to do just that.
Timmons Temple Church of God in Christ was built in 1932 at Webster Street and Texas Avenue. The former church was relocated to Silver Springs Park in 2015 and is now owned by the Springfield-Greene County Park Board. Through restoration efforts, Timmons Hall reopened in 2019.
A video of Sunday’s presentation was shared on social media. Visit https://www.facebook.com/TimmonsHallSGF/ to watch.
To learn more about the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, visit https://nlbm.com/.
Sara Karnes is an Outdoors Reporter with the Springfield News-Leader. Follow along with her adventures on Twitter and Instagram @Sara_Karnes. Got a story to tell? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally Appeared Here