Negro Big Leagues

2016 visit to Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM), in Kansas City, Missouri. A group of local historians, business leaders, and former baseball players came together to create the NLBM in the early 1990s. It’s located in the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District of Kansas City, MO., the center for black culture and life in Kansas City from the late 1800s-1960s. A top baseball destination; next to the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum in Cooperstown, New York.

MLB announced, December of last year, that it would recognize the Negro Leagues as a major league. Since then, the nervous energy of questions and reactions grows.  For those who have studied or procured the delicate history of the Negro Leagues; could they ever have imagined this outcome? Through their blood sweat and tears of research, we know that the Negro Leagues were comprised of seven leagues listed below.

  • Negro National League (1920-1931)
  • Eastern Colored League (1923-1928)
  • American Negro League (1929)
  • East-West League (1932)
  • Negro Southern League (1932)
  • Negro National League (1933-1948)
  • Negro American League (1937-1960)

The Challenge to merge these sparse records with over 140 years of the leagues that have formed Major League Baseball. We’ll hear debates that will change the way we think of the timeline; rewriting the record books for decades to come.

2020 was the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Negro Leagues in 1920. Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro League Baseball Museum here in Kansas City, recently announced that they will continue to celebrate the leagues. The “Negro Leagues 101” Campaign will include opportunities to engage, to educate, to make discoveries, and to find new ways to celebrate the history.

Little Cooperstown

St. Petersburg History Museum (Founded 1920) celebrating a Centennial this year. The mission has been to collect, preserve, and communicate the history and heritage of Florida. A late summer drive here was to see “Schrader’s Little Cooperstown,” one of the exhibits on display at St. Petersburg Museum of History. A complete catalogue of autographed baseballs can be found in the museum’s website. Guinness has honored this collection of over 4800 autographed baseballs as the largest private collection of its kind in the world. Total value of collection is some two million dollars. Some of the highlights included the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a special section for the Negro Leagues. But, autographs go beyond the field, from Elvis Presley to Millvina Dean, the last known survivor of the Titanic. It also covers 100 years of Spring Training history in the Tampa area. “I’ve never seen a collection to compare with it,” said Norman Chester of All-American Sports Collectibles.

“Little Cooperstown,” as Dennis Schrader dubbed it, holds the world record for largest collection of autographed baseballs. He had his first baseball signed from Mickey Mantle in 1956 as a nine-year kid. Mickey trained with the New York Yankees in St. Petersburg, Florida. Growing up in Florida, it evolved into what is it today. He’s been an active dealer in sports collectibles over the 25-30 years. But, that first signed ball from Mickey Mantle did not survive the test of time. Like many kids that age, he had no idea what that ball would be worth and took it out to play baseball. The collection has not gone without controversy. Some of the autographs have been challenged by experts over the years. Dennis Schrader also had a long struggle with Guinness. On October 18, 2011 CBS News reported owner Dennis Schrader finally received his certificate from Guinness during the previous summer. This collection does not just tell a story of historical events in this region and around the world. With each baseball and the autograph of the person who signed, its a testament explaining why this game has been the American Pastime.

Roberto Clemente Memories

“Beyond Baseball: The Life of Roberto Clemente” was a Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition. Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico with the Carimar Design and Research studio, and with the support of Smithsonian Latino Center, collaborated on creating this exhibit. It traveled across the United States from 2007 to 2012 and was on exhibit here at Orange County Regional History Museum (Downtown Orlando, Florida) from January to March of 2012.

Here is a list of the places visited:

  1. Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, Louisville, Ky (10/20/07 to 2/24/08)
  2. Georgia Highlands College, Rome, Ga (3/15/08 to 5/11/08)
  3. National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tn (6/5/08 to 7/27/08)
  4. Greene County Public Library, Xenia, Oh (8/16/08 to 10/12/08)
  5. Collier County Parks and Recreation, Naples, Fl (11/1/08 to 1/3/09)
  6. Hoard Historical Museum, Fort Atkinson, Wi (1/24/09 to 3/22/09)
  7. Austin Public Library, Austin, Mn (4/11/09 to 6/7/09)
  8. Broward County Library, Fort Lauderdale, Fl (6/27/09 to 8/23/09)
  9. Red Cloud Opera House at the Cather Center, Ne (9/12/09 to 12/6/09)
  10. Elmhurst Historical Museum, Elmhurst, Il (1/16/10 to 4/11/10)
  11. California University of Pennsylvania, California, Pa (5/1/10 to 8/29/10)
  12. Little League Museum, Williamsport, Pa (9/18/10 to 11/14/10)
  13. Chattanooga African American Museum, Tn (12/4/10 to 1/30/11)
  14. Challenger Space Center, Peoria, Az (2/19/11 to 4/17/11)
  15. El Museo Latino, Omaha, Ne (5/7/11 to 7/17/11)
  16. Warrren County Historical Society, Lebanon, Oh (8/27/11 to 10/16/11)
  17. Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History, Baltimore, Md (11/5/11 to 12/30/11)
  18. Orange County Regional History Museum, Orlando, Fl (1/21/12 to 3/18/12)
  19. Puerto Rican Arts Alliance, Chicago, Il (4/7/2012 to 6/3/2012)

Items on exhibit have been archived at Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) in Washington DC. I visited the exhibit on the day of the screening of the film “Roberto Clemente: A Touch of Royalty”. This documentary follows the triumphant & tragic end of Roberto Clemente’s life. Donald Fedynak (Writer and Director) was on hand to discuss the making of the film. It was a great conversation that gave everyone in the room insight on those first days after the crash. In this rare film, there is a scene of people that have gathered along the shores of Puerto Rico near the known accident looking in the distance for hope. “Solo Dios hace al hombre feliz,” sang the crowd. “Man is happy but by the Grace of God,” the English translation. The recurring theme of the film is the contrast between the life of a happy man and the pain of a grieving community.

My Family moved from Puerto Rico to Chicago, Illinois in the fall of 1973; nine months after his death. Sometimes, while watching the Chicago Cubs games on WGN Television, they would play this film during rain delays. I would always shed a tear. From an early age, I discovered that there was something, greater than ourselves, to live for. All that is left are faded images of him in his road greys, playing the Chicago Cubs, walking up to bat with the brick wall behind home plate of Wrigley Field. Those were the wonder years. “Roberto Clemente: A Touch of Royalty” captures that moment for future generations to know him.

This past August 18th would’ve been his 86th Birthday. 48 years later, the world celebrates his life while still feeling that loss. His legacy is synonymous with taking humanitarian action in a time of need and with the value of service to others.

Louisville Bat Factory Closes

Associated Press reported that Louisville Slugger Bat Factory & Museum, otherwise known as Hillerich & Bradsby Company, officially closed on Sunday April 19, 2020. Due to the economic affects of COVID-19, the company furloughed 90% of its employees or 171 workers.

It’s a primary source of baseball bats for Major League Baseball. The Factory has been in operation for 176 years, about as long as the history of the game itself. It produces an average of 2 million bats a year. Closing it only adds pressure to their mill in Pennsylvania. “If the company doesn’t soon crank up its Pennsylvania mill–and MLB has no timetable to start its season–then some of the set to become bats might spoil,” said CEO John Hillerich IV to “The Louisville Courier Journal.” The situation remains fluid.

The tours started in the actual factory, where no cameras were allowed, a safeguard against spies trying to steal trade secrets. As our tour guide introduced himself, nearby workers were filling actual orders. When we visited, the presence of pink bats served as a clue for the time of year. MLB Players would use these bats for Breast Cancer Awareness on the upcoming Mother’s Day Game. This place has obviously evolved with the game over the years. One giant milling machine was used exclusively for the bats made for all the MLB Players. All the precision cuts per specification were made there. Countless players have personally visited and placed there autographs on this machine.

Among many of the strong connections to the game, Louisville Bat Factory & Museum had the latest Major League Baseball Standings for each division as a testimonial to the hits and runs being produced by players using Louisville Slugger bats. Also on exhibit were recent display additions to celebrate the induction of Ken Griffey Jr. into the National Baseball Hall Of Fame (during the summer 0f 2016) in Cooperstown, New York.

Negro Leagues 101

This week was the 46th Anniversary of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, passing Babe Ruth to the top of the all-time list. He ended the 1973 season with 713 and waited through a year of hate mail, insults, and other malicious treatment. On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron reached the pinnacle that transcended all adversity which held him back before that moment. It was a long way from that 16 year old kid in Mobile, Alabama, who first signed with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues. In his 23 MLB seasons, he went on to hit 755 home runs, 3771 hits, & had 2,795 runs batted in with a .305 life time batting average. There are so many other highlights and awards, including holding about a dozen MLB records. One undeniable feat is that, without his home runs, he still holds more than 3,000 hits. He was the last player from the Negro Leagues to make it to MLB.

This year is also the 100th Anniversary of the Founding of the Negro Leagues. Unlike, the well documented history of MLB, much of the history has been lost with the years. What we know is due to the sacrifice of those few who have volunteered their blood, sweat, and tears to meticulously sift through hours and hours of research. The history can be traced back to the 19th Century, But, in a nutshell, there were numerous professional leagues that came and went. Together, they form an era of baseball that thrived and became a source of pride and accomplishment in the Black community.

  • Negro National League (1920-1931)
  • Eastern Colored League (1923-1928)
  • American Negro League (1929)
  • East-West League (1932)
  • Negro Southern League (1932)
  • Negro National League (1933-1948)
  • Negro American League (1937-1960)

Today, the challenges to raise awareness of the history, and its impact on the game continues. Last February, MLB & MLBPA donated a combined $1 million towards that effort. Groups like Center for Negro Leagues Baseball Research and Society American Baseball Research Negro Leagues Research Committee have championed the way. MLB has plans to celebrate the centennial in the 2020 post season.

The epicenter is the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. A lot of thought went into curating this 10,000 square foot space. A group of local historians, business leaders, and former baseball players came together to create the NLBM in the early 1990’s. It’s located next door to the American Jazz Museum, near the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District of Kansas City, the center for Black Culture and life in Kansas City from the late 19th Century to the 1960’s.