KANSAS CITY, Mo. — More than 220 of the Negro Leagues’ greats came to life in living color for the first time in an exhibit unveiled Thursday night.
Graig Kreindle spent three years working on the project at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
“They were some of the best ballplayers of all time and should be celebrated just as much as the Mickey Mantles and Babe Ruths and those guys,” Kreindle said.
The Kansas City Monarchs’ Buck O’Neill is featured prominently in the new exhibit, which is on display until May. So is another Monarch, the first Negro Leagues player to play in Major League Baseball: Jackie Robinson.
The exhibit’s debut was all part of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Negro National League.
Negro Leagues operated from 1920 through 1951, four years after Jackie Robinson broke the MLB color barrier.
Major League Baseball celebrated the centennial by joining with the Major League Baseball Players Association to announce their second joint $1 million donation to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
“It commemorates baseball history, and it’s a tribute to African-American entrepreneurship in the culture that existed at the time,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday.
The privately financed museum was founded in 1990 and moved into its current facility in 1994. The Negro National League, the first Negro major league, was founded by eight entrepreneurs at the Paseo YMCA in the eastern part of Kansas City.
Part of the donation will be used to help renovate the YMCA building that will house the Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center. The museum had spent more than $100,000 on the renovation when the building was damaged in 2018.
“Unfortunately, someone vandalized the building, derailing a lot of work that had gone on in this building,” said Bob Kendrick, the museum’s executive director. “It was important for us to come back into this space. We didn’t want the haters to have the last laugh.”
Thursday’s events kicked off a yearlong celebration called “A Game-Changing Century.”
“It’s not just about the money,” Manfred said. “A number of our teams are playing special tribute throughout the year. There will be features on all our platforms about the Negro Leagues. Maybe most important is the educational effort that is going to take place in our youth programs.”
All big league teams will wear a patch honoring the history of the Negro Leagues on June 27.
Frank White, an eight-time Gold Glove winner who played for the Royals from 1973-90, grew up in the neighborhood and joined the YMCA in that building. He learned from players who started in the Negro Leagues, such as Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, and Satchel Paige.
“I can’t tell you how many basketball games I played here,” said White, now the executive of Jackson County in Missouri. “It’s neat to see this building, and this area, coming back.”
Linda Shelby knows the role of African American players in baseball well. Her dad was Satchel Paige.
“To see that their legacy will always be remembered — they would be so overjoyed,” Shelby said.