A Walk Through History
Prior to their contest with the Royals on Saturday, members of the Nationals were invited on a special visit to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. NLBM President Bob Kendrick – successor to the late, great, John “Buck” O’Neil – led the guided tour, while Ian Desmond, Scott Hairston, Denard Span and Tony Tarasco learned about the history of the Negro Leagues and the players that were among the best of all time.
Kendrick’s charming, spirited storytelling painted a beautiful portrait for a touring group and attracted as many as 40 other guests to join along, as he described everything from the speed of James “Cool Papa” Bell to the harsh travel conditions players had to deal with during an era of oppressive segregation.
A poignant, personal moment marked the highlight of the trip, when Hairston saw a showcased photograph of his grandfather, Sam, a star on the Indianapolis Clowns in the late 1940s. With his wife and two young sons in tow, Hairston was able to share a special moment with his family following the guided portion of the tour.
“It’s a very proud feeling – and also very emotional for me, because this is the first time I’ve been here,” Hairston said. “It’s really nice, especially for my kids and wife to see. Not only is it the history of our family, but it’s American history.”
Span, who visited Kansas City many times as a member of the Minnesota Twins, also paid his first visit to the museum. He said he learned a lot on the tour, and was thankful for the opportunity to be there.
“It definitely surpassed what I could have imagined,” Span said of the visit. “I enjoyed the stories about Josh Gibson and all the home runs, and how he was called the ‘Black Babe Ruth’ and Babe Ruth was called the ‘White Josh Gibson.’ The record books would have been written differently if those guys had been able to play in the big leagues, but I still feel like the Negro Leagues played a big part in society.”
Span was struck by the contrast between the five-star accommodations that players enjoy in today’s game and the hardships Negro League players faced to even find hotels that would accept them as paying guests.
“Those guys rode on broken-down buses and probably stayed in one-star hotels, if that, but they still found joy in playing the game that they loved,” Span said. “That just signifies that whole league and the character of those players.”
At the conclusion of the visit, the Nationals presented Kendrick and the Museum with a signed No. 32 Nationals jersey, the number worn by Hall of Fame first baseman Buck Leonard when he played for the Homestead Grays. Tonight, the Nationals will take the field wearing throwback Grays jerseys, facing the Kansas City Monarchs in commemoration of the 1942 Negro World Series.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is located near the intersection of historic 18th and Vine, just east of downtown Kansas City.