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MLB, MLBPA donate $1M to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) When it was founded in a one-room office nearly three decades ago, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum set out to preserve an important yet quickly fading era of America’s pastime.

The days of Pop Lloyd and Judy Johnson, Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige.

Its mission has evolved and expanded over the years to where it serves not only as a caretaker of the past but a bridge to the future. There is the Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center, which opened earlier this year in the old Paseo YMCA, and a $19 million urban youth academy in development nearby that aims to attract more kids to the game.

All those endeavors cost money, of course, and that’s where Major League Baseball and its players’ union have stepped in. They joined Wednesday to present a $1 million grant to the museum to help with operating costs, expansion plans and educational opportunities.

“Because of the sacrifices and triumphs of the men and women of the Negro Leagues, the museum is an inspirational experience for fans of any age,” Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said. “We appreciate the museum’s contributions to baseball and the role it can play in encouraging young people.”

Blacks have played professional baseball since the late 1800s, often as part of military or college teams. There were few color barriers back then, only a profound love of the game.

But as racism grew in the early 1900s, and Jim Crow laws began an age of segregation, black players found it increasingly difficult to gain acceptance in the game. So in 1920, former player Rube Foster held a meeting at the Paseo YUMC to set rules for the Negro National League, and soon rival leagues were springing up across the country.

Games often played in major urban centers became events, drawing thousands of fans to see a style of play that was every bit as entertaining as the games played by their white counterparts.

The Negro Leagues had their share of stars, too. Cool Papa Bell and Josh Gibson became household names, while future Hall of Famers such as Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson – who broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 – got their start on teams such as the Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Kansas City Monarchs.

“The Negro Leagues played an important role in not only changing the game but America, too,” said the museum’s president, Bob Kendrick, who was close friends with several former players.

The integration of baseball in the 1940s and `50s led to the decline of the Negro Leagues, and the last teams folded in the early 1960s. By the late 1980s, the era was largely forgotten, glossed over by historians eager to rewrite baseball’s often-checkered past.

With that in mind, a group of former players led by Monarchs star Buck O’Neil decided to found a museum to preserve their history. It has since grown into a 10,000-square-foot destination in the historic 18th and Vine District, adjacent to the American Jazz Museum, and draws thousands of visitors every year.

Highlights include hundreds of photographs, a replica field with 12 bronze sculptures, a massive collection of baseball artifacts and a series of multimedia computer stations.

Current big leaguers often make a point of dropping in when their teams are in town to play the Royals. Earlier this year, Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones – who had been subject to racial taunts in a game at Fenway Park – toured the museum and made a $20,000 donation.

Longtime player Tony Clark, the first black executive director of the players’ union, said the latest grant will help ensure the Negro Leagues and their players are never forgotten.

“Today’s players are committed to providing opportunities for underserved populations to play baseball,” Clark said, “and we all believe the Negro Leagues’ storied history can play an important role in our game’s future by inspiring minority youth to play the sport we all love.”

More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

What in the heck is Derek Jeter doing with the Marlins?

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Last night we linked the Miami Herald story about the Marlins firing special assistants Jeff Conine, Andre Dawson, Tony Perez and Jack McKeon. Let’s talk about that a little bit.

The firings themselves are eyebrow-raising inasmuch as “special assistants” like that are rarely key front office personnel. Former players, Hall of Famers and former managers like those guys are really ambassadors for the team and, particularly in the case of Jeff Conine, who is known as “Mr. Marlin,” why would new ownership want to kick its ambassadors to the curb? It’s not like you can just hire a bunch of new franchise legends for he role. Who ya gonna call? Dan Uggla?

Sure, I can see an argument for changing their responsibilities. If they actually had say in baseball operations, I can see new ownership wanting to relieve them of those duties. It’s also possible that Jeff Loria paid them too much money for guys who are only team ambassadors. So, sure, if the job is too cushy by the standards of the gig, I could see Jeter cutting their pay or their duties to make it conform to what other clubs do with their former stars. Maybe that makes them want to quit. If so, that’s OK I suppose.

Beyond that, however, it’s hard to see why you would NOT want guys like Conine, Dawson, Perez and McKeon to represent your club in the community and in the service of impressing prospective season ticket holders. The franchise’s first star player, a Hall of Famer who ended his career with the club, another Hall of Famer who is from Cuba (which is kind of a big deal in a place like Miami) and the manager who brought the club its last World Series championship are exactly who you want to represent your team. Especially when nearly everything else about your team has, for so very long, alienated the very public you want supporting it.

But let’s say, for the moment, that there was a good reason to fire those guys. Let’s say they’re all flaming jackwagons who have secretly poisoned the franchise from within. Let’s say that, despite his grandfatherly charm, Jack McKeon is a ruthless Machiavellian. Let’s say that Conine, Dawson and Perez beat up copy boys in the stairwells and microwave leftover fish in the break room every day. Even if that’s the case, how does this happen?

And here’s the twist: Jeter asked Marlins president David Samson to fire those four Marlins luminaries for him, because Jeter didn’t want to do it.

Even more strange, Jeter made the request after telling Samson what he already knew: that Samson would not be returning as team president.

It seems that Samson did carry out the firings. Unless some handsome severance package was being held hostage over it, I’m not sure how Samson doesn’t tell Jeter, “Hey Captain RE2PECT, know what? Up yours, you do it yourself.” Of course, one can only project one’s own sensibility on a guy like David Samson so much, so let’s cut him a bit of slack here. We don’t know how the conversation went. Maybe Samson was happy to tell those guys to hit the bricks.

But really, how doesn’t Jeter man-up and handle this himself? It’s not because he’s not yet officially the owner, because if he has the power to fire Samson, he has the power to fire Conine and his friends. Maybe there is more to this than the Herald story lets on, but as it stands now, it comes off as cowardice on Jeter’s part. It’s a really bad look.

I’ll be curious to see how this plays in the baseball establishment over the next couple of days. Everyone — particularly the press — loves Derek Jeter an credits him with a class, smoothness and media savvy matched by few others. This, though, was either (a) a failure of class and an act of disrespect to baseball luminaries; or (b) a complete bungling of public relations, serving to make what was, in reality, a reasonable move appear classless. It has to be one or the other.

Derek Jeter has been a teflon star for more than two decades, but two of the few things the media loves more than Derek Jeter are (a) old Baseball Men like McKeon, Dawson, Perez and Conine; and (b) “classiness.” It’ll be interesting to see if, for the first time in his professional life, the media gets its knives out for Derek Jeter for seeming content to dispense with both.

Dodgers top Giants, clinch fifth straight NL West title

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The Dodgers are NL West champions for the fifth time in a row. They clinched with a 4-2 win over the Giants on Friday night, taking their first and only lead on a mammoth record-breaking home run from Cody Bellinger in the third inning.

Rich Hill turned in another quality start, going six innings with five hits, a run and nine strikeouts to keep the Giants at bay. He tacked on an RBI hit of his own, too, lashing a double to left field for his first extra-base hit since 2007.

The Giants, meanwhile, deployed Jeff Samardzija and his 4.42 ERA for 4 1/3 innings. Samardzija was on the hook for the Dodgers’ four-run spread in the third and took his 15th loss of the season. Pablo Sandoval came through with a solo home run in the ninth, but the rest of San Francisco’s offense wasn’t so lucky against Kenley Jansen, who struck out the side to clinch the game — and the division.

After Friday’s showstopper, the Dodgers are just two wins away from their first 100-win season since 1974. If they win the remaining eight games of the season, they’ll beat out the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers for the most wins in franchise history.