Interview with Negro League Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick
Outside Pitch Sports Network had the pleasure of interviewing Negro League Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick on Outside Pitch MLB Radio on Monday. He was also willing to answer a few more questions for Outside Pitch Sports Network after the fact. It would be a disservice to the history of the game if anyone missed out on the radio interview, which can be heard here. However, he also discusses at length more about the history of baseball and the Negro Leagues. Here is the exclusive OPSN interview in its entirety.
Outside Pitch Sports Network: The Negro Leagues was not just one league, but multiple leagues. Can you explain the history of the Negro Leagues and the formation of different leagues?
Bob Kendrick: There were six different league structures over the 40 years that the Negro Leagues operated from 1920 to 1960. The Negro National League (NNL) was established by Andrew “Rube” Foster in Kansas City at a meeting that took place at the Paseo YMCA (Just around the corner from where the NLBM operates today and the future home of the Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center). In 1923, Ed Bolden formed a rival league known as the Eastern Color League (ECL). In 1924, the inaugural Negro Leagues World Series was held with the Kansas City Monarchs squaring-off against Bolden’s Hilldale Daisies (Darby, P.A). In addition to the NNL and ECL, other Negro League affiliates included: American Negro League, Negro Southern League, Negro American League and East-West League.
OPSN: How did Jim Crow laws impact the ability for African American baseball players ability to not only develop their potential as players, but also impact major league baseball as well?
BK: What Jim Crow laws did was create the impetus for a Black Baseball circuit and eventually the formation of the Negro Leagues which gave the best African-American and Hispanic Baseball players to showcase their world-class skills. As baseball fans, those same Jim Crow laws robbed us from seeing all the best baseball players take the field to play and compete. In addition, the Negro Leagues would also serve as an engine that drove Black businesses to their economic heights.
OPSN: The fear of the Negro Leagues dominating Major League Baseball was apparent in the early stages when Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis disallowed Major League teams from playing black teams for fear of embarrassment. Did Commissioner Landis’ outlaw of competition between Negro Leagues and Major Leagues help the Negro Leagues grow in terms of on the field talent?
BK: Landis, coincidentally became commissioner of Major League Baseball in 1920, the same year that the Negro Leagues were established in Kansas City by Rube Foster. In many ways his refusal to allow Major League teams to play Negro League teams elevated the stature of Black Baseball. Landis felt it was an embarrassment for Major League teams to lose to Negro League teams which in essence served notice that Black Baseball was a force to be reckoned with.
OPSN: The Negro League Baseball Museum is a historic venue which teaches us all about the greatest baseball players that we never saw play such as Josh Gibson and Buck O’Neil. How does the museum ensure to preserve the rich history of the Negro Leagues but also educate today’s society about the quality of players and coaches who never had the chance to impact the game at the Major League Baseball level?
BK: The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) celebrates the 2,600 courageous men (and women) who forged a glorious history during the inglorious era of American segregation. The players had no idea that they were making history. They just wanted to “play ball!” The passion, determination and perseverance they displayed in the face of tremendous social adversity not only changed the game but changed our country for the better. The NLBM puts a proud spotlight on the greats of the game before Jackie Robinson breaks Major League baseball’s color barrier. Through the work of the NLBM, the world is awakening to baseball’s unsung heroes who could play the game and teach the game as well as anyone affiliated with the sport.
OPSN: Satchel Paige, one of the greatest pitchers in Negro League history, made his debut at the age of 42 in 1948 with the Cleveland Indians. How important is Paige’s impact not only in the Negro Leagues but also his place in MLB history?
BK: Major League Baseball says that Satchel was 42 when he joined the Cleveland Indians in 1948. He was likely closer to 52 than 42. He never revealed his real age but most believed he was at least 10 years older than he claimed. He helped the Indians with the World Series in ’48. I’m not sure there has ever been any more lore or legend surrounding any baseball player than there is with Satchel. He was, by far, the star among stars in the Negro Leagues. Arguably the game’s greatest showman but he could back it up with immense talent that saw in great demand to pitch from big cities to small towns. Everybody wanted to see Satchel take the mound.
OPSN: Eddie Klepp was the first white player to play in the Negro Leagues. What was his impact on the Negro Leagues?
BK: Klepp’s impact on the Negro Leagues was minimal on the field. In the eyes of the Negro Leagues he was just another player playing ball. It does, however speaks to the fact that the Negro Leagues didn’t care what color you were. All they cared about was “can you play?” And, if you can play… than you could play.
Outside Pitch Sports Network thanks Negro League Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick for his time being able to conduct the interview not only for the radio broadcast, but for Outside Pitch Sports Network. OPSN plans on continuing an ongoing relationship with Kendrick and the Negro League Baseball Museum, and hope to broadcast a LIVE show from the historic venue in 2014.
Photos Courtesy of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, M.O.