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


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.

2018 Preview: Detroit Tigers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Tigers.

We can’t blame you if you chose to erase the Tigers’ 2017 season from memory. They plummeted to the bottom of the AL Central division for the second time in three years, hobbled by Michael Fulmer’s chronic shoulder and elbow issues, an untimely implosion from Francisco Rodriguez and the worst version of Miguel Cabrera anyone’s seen to date. Their rotation ranked 13th-best among major league teams; their bullpen, dead last. By mid-July, it was clear the team wasn’t going to touch the division-leading Indians or the surprisingly hot Twins or the streaky Royals. Rather than make a pointless push for the playoffs during the second half, they seized the opportunity to get a head start on a lengthy rebuilding process instead.

Prior to the July 31 trade deadline, the Tigers had already jettisoned some of their biggest contributors—and biggest contracts. J.D. Martinez packed his bags for Arizona as the club gained a trifecta of Diamondbacks shortstop prospects: Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara and Jose King. Justin Wilson and Alex Avila were swapped for Cubs infielders Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes. In one of the most nerve-wracking deadline deals, Justin Verlander and the outstanding $56 million left on his contract (not including the $22 million vesting option for 2020) were shipped to the Astros for prospect right-hander Franklin Perez, catcher Jake Rogers and outfielder Daz Cameron—with just seconds to spare before the cutoff time.

Of course, the writing was on the wall well before Al Avila decided to host a fire sale. Francisco Rodriguez logged six blown saves in his first 25 appearances with the club and was released after he proved incapable of handling any high-leverage situation. His struggles might have been more easily overlooked had Bruce Rondon not tanked as well, depleting the Tigers of much of their bullpen depth as they dropped yet another closer candidate—Justin Wilson—off with the Cubs.

A dilapidated bullpen wasn’t the team’s only weakness. Perennial All-Star and future first-ballot Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera labored through the worst year of his career, slashing .249/.329/.399 with 16 home runs and a .728 OPS in 529 PA. His power and productivity was zapped by lingering back issues, and he finished the year with two herniated discs in his lower back and a career-worst -0.2 fWAR. Not helping matters was a series of explosive, bench-clearing brawls against the Yankees in August, during which Cabrera got slapped with a seven-game suspension after he incited the first fight against New York catcher Austin Romine.

The offseason yielded few returns. The Tigers declined a $16 million option for Anibal Sanchez and found a taker for Ian Kinsler in the Angels, who helped restock Detroit’s farm system with minor league outfielder Troy Montgomery and right-handed pitching prospect Wikel Hernandez. The team committed another $12 million to rotation and outfield depth with right-hander Mike Fiers, lefties Francisco Liriano and Ryan Carpenter, and outfielder Leonys Martin. Perhaps most notable was a change in management: Brad Ausmus capped a four-year run with the team as Ron Gardenhire stepped into the dugout.

Looking ahead, the Tigers still have a few items to check off their to-do list before they can stage a full-scale rebuild. That includes offloading the remaining $184 million on Cabrera’s contract, something that will be impossible to do unless and until the 35-year-old has a monster bounce-back year in 2018. It also means exploring trade options for Fulmer, who profiles as one of the biggest assets on the Tigers’ 2018 roster and, with four years of control remaining on his current contract, could net some serious talent as they continue to build for the future. Likewise, closer Shane Greene, shortstop Jose Iglesias and outfielder Nicholas Castellanos are all expected to be made available at some point this year.

Come Opening Day, the club will likely roll out a rotation featuring Michael Fulmer, Jordan Zimmerman, Francisco Liriano, Mike Fiers and Matt Boyd. Daniel Norris is also competing for a starting role, though he will likely get edged out by Liriano to start the season. Despite the serious health concerns that were raised last year, Fulmer remains the undisputed ace of the pack after putting up All-Star numbers in 2017, including a 3.83 ERA, 2.2 BB/9 and 6.2 SO/9 in 164 2/3 innings. No one else (save Verlander) managed an ERA under 5.00 last year; Zimmerman kept a 6.08 ERA, 2.5 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 in 160 innings and led all major-league starters with a league-worst 108 earned runs.

Mikie Mahtook, Leonys Martin and Nick Castellanos project as the Opening Day outfield trio, though JaCoby Jones has looked versatile enough to back up all three spots this spring. Both Mahtook and Castellanos had decent runs last year, while Martin will try to stage a comeback after slashing just .172/.232/.281 with three home runs in back-to-back gigs with the Mariners and Cubs.

Cabrera, naturally, is expected to resume his post at first base and fellow veteran Victor Martinez will continue to slot in at DH. Both Cabrera and Martinez have looked exceptional at the plate this spring, but take that with a grain (or several hundred) of salt. Dixon Machado is set for a full-time role at second base, with Jose Iglesias at shortstop and Jeimer Candelario at third. James McCann and John Hicks are scheduled to share time behind the dish again. Barring a lot of surprises and bounce-back efforts, that doesn’t make for a very intimidating lineup, and probably not one that can supersede the collective .258/.324/.424 batting line the offense managed last year.

In a nutshell: Rebuilds are no fun to watch. The Tigers were very bad last season, and they’re going to be very bad this season. Cross your fingers that Miguel Cabrera looks as sharp in the regular season as he has in camp, keep an eye on that no. 1 draft pick this June, enjoy the September call-ups, maybe attend a few minor league games, and keep reminding yourself that contention is only a few years away (probably).

Prediction: 5th place, AL Central