Kansas City Shrine Honors Negro Leagues

Article excerpt

About 10 years ago a small group of baseball players from the old Negro Leagues gathered in Ashland, Ky., to celebrate the birthday of Clint Thomas, a 17-year veteran of the leagues.

The gathering was a success and in the succeeding years more and more Negro League players were invited to what became an annual get-together, sponsored by locally based Ashland Oil.

From those beginnings came Saturday's opening of the The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which will showcase 2,000 square feet of photos, artifacts and interactive displays.

Buck O'Neil, who was the first black scout and later the first black coach in the major leagues, played a prominent role in making the museum a reality.

Thomas' "birthday party" eventually lost the sponsorship of Ashland Oil as the oil market declined. But over the years quite a bit of memorabilia had been left in Ashland by the visiting ballplayers, and Ashland Oil wasn't sure what to do with it.

Ashland Oil asked O'Neil and other players if they wanted it back. O'Neil and his friends had a better idea: Donate it to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

After O'Neil donated the collection to the Hall of Fame, he realized there was too much Negro Leagues history to fit into a small part of the Cooperstown shrine. So in 1989, in conjunction with the Black Archives, he began working to start a Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

In 1990 the effort was incorporated and O'Neil became the chairman. The group spent the next three years accumulating Negro Leagues memorabilia and raising money for a permanent museum.

The next step came in 1993 when the museum put together a touring display educating people about the era of black baseball before Jackie Robinson broke major-league baseball's color barrier in 1947.

The exhibit, which made its debut at the 1993 All-Star Game in Baltimore was a smash all over the country. In Kansas City, 10,000 people viewed the display over three weeks.

Interest in the exhibit prompted museum officials to bump up the opening of the museum by two years. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum had been scheduled to open in 1996 in a 9,000-square-foot space in a complex that is to include the International Jazz Hall of Fame and the Black Archives History Center. …