The Negro Leagues Museum is in grave danger. But perhaps there is now hope.

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UPDATE:  We received a comment from Dr. Raymond Doswell, interim director of the Negro Leagues Museum:

Let me explain to all of your readers that the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is NOT in “grave danger.” It does have many challenges, but is solvent, open for business, and not in turmoil.  I encourage all of you to come visit, join us on Facebook, or become a member.  I am as much of a “lifer” as any person associated with the organization, having been here 15 years helping shape the vision of the museum.  It will not go down on my watch.

Thank you, Dr. Doswell.  I hope Joe Posnanski’s concerns about the “grave danger” are overstated, and I hope that you are correct that the museum will remain viable.  And I join Dr. Doswell in encouraging people to become a member and do whatever they can to help support this vital institution.

9:30 A.M.: Back in late 2008 there was trouble and strife at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.  Buck O’Neil had died in 2006, and the struggle over who would succeed him as executive director had been raging on for some time.  O’Neil’s dying wish was that a man named Bob Kendrick would take over. He was the museum’s marketing director and had been O’Neil’s right hand man. According to many he had truly run the place for years.

The board went in a different direction, however, bypassed Kendrick and hired a man named Greg Baker. Baker was a longtime city employee, arguably well-connected, but not really all that connected with the Museum. He was hired for his alleged “strategic planning experience” and “entrepreneurial” approach to things. At the time of his hiring he was running the airport or something.  This split the board and really, really pissed off people like Jason Whitlock and Joe Posnanski. Here was Whitlock’s response at the time. Here is Posnanski writing about it the other dayI wrote about it at the time too:

Though I am not acquainted with the specific politics of the Negro Leagues Museum, the dynamic here is a familiar one: a Chamber of Commerce-style politico with many career stops along the way, lauded for his alleged “entrepreneurial” and “strategic planning” credentials is given a high profile job over a lifer from within the organization. Here, the passed-over lifer is a guy by the name of Bob Kendrick, who, according to Whitlock, was O’Neil’s right hand man and the guy who has truly run the place for years.

In my experience, the guy in Baker’s position usually crashes and burns within two years, mostly because “entrepreneurial credentials” aren’t all that applicable to a non-profit organization, and because no one really knows what the hell “strategic planning experience” really is. When the guy is eventually fired, the board then tries to get a do-over by hiring the guy in Kendrick’s position. Except that guy, having been passed-over for a lightweight, has since moved on and is no longer interested, leaving the whole organization in the lerch for about five years. In other words, it’s the organizational equivalent of signing Barry Zito.

Hey, guess what: the guy in Baker’s position crashed and burned within two years. Baker’s out.  And guess what else? According to the linked story, Kendrick has moved on, and is now running the Kansas City office for the National Sports Center for the Disabled. There’s no suggestion in the article that the Negro Leagues Museum can get him back either. People move on.

I’m not happy I was right about this. And I’m far more sad that Whitlock and Posnanski were correct that going with Baker was a bad move for the Museum, and all that they had feared has come to pass. I just visit the place once in a blue moon. Those guys and many, many others have invested their blood, sweat, money and tears in the Negro Leagues Museum and seeing Buck O’Neil’s vision for it ignored has undoubtedly been a wrenching experience. That vision wasn’t just about Kendrick either: it included an Education and Research Center, still unbuilt, that O’Neil felt was vital to the Museum’s future.  It all went away because the politico got the gig.

According to Posnanski, the Museum is now in “grave danger.”  Hopefully with Baker leaving, the ship can be righted. But it will need help to be righted. One way you can help is to visit it and tell others to do so.  Another way to help is to become a member.  I’m going to do so as soon as I hit “publish” on this post.  See if you can see clear to do the same.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉