They Were All Stars
By Patrick Ball
At 18th and Vine history comes alive at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. Johnny - a docent - was seated in the lobby, a felt fedora atop his head, wearing a fine vest, a large turquoise ring on his right hand, and high gloss shoes, Johnny took the time that day to share the following tale he heard Buck O’Neil spin many times.
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Baseball’s opening day is less than one week away. Have you made your plans for which ballparks to visit this year? How about the American League Central, Kansas City Royals?
What a team! Last year they battled the San Francisco Giants in the World Series through seven exciting games. Casual fans may not realize this but baseball in Kansas City has a lavish tradition. Just ask Johnny.
At 18th and Vine, history comes alive at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. Johnny - a docent - was seated in the lobby, a felt fedora atop his head, wearing a fine vest, a large turquoise ring on his right hand, and high gloss shoes.
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
Museum Front - In Kansas City
Johnny took the time one day to share the following tale that he heard Buck O’Neil spin many times.
“It was the grand opening celebration of the museum, 1990. My personal hero, Buck O’Neil had invited the stars of black baseball - Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Barry Bonds to name a few,” said Johnny as we chatted that Saturday morning. “They all came except for one, who declined. Despite his absence, it was an extraordinary day! John Jordan (Buck) O'Neil, player manager of the Kansas City Monarchs, was the first black coach in major league baseball, Chicago Cubs Scout, and ambassador of the game! He used to sit in these very seats and share memories with fans.” Purchase your ten dollar ticket, then transport yourself to a world gone by.
Image by kc congdon
Field Of Legends
Enter the museum through an ole’ fashion ballpark turnstile and glance to your left through the back-stop to see the Negro leagues most famous position players, frozen in time practicing their craft on the “Field of Legends”.
You’ve arrived at the ballpark for the first pitch. It’s a warm summer day. Satchel Paige of the Kansas City Monarchs is on the mound. It will be a no hitter. Scouting the field is a life-size bronze of Buck O’Neil in the pose made famous in the Ken Burns documentary Baseball.
Here you will see the stars of Negro League baseball from the 1920s through the 1950s. There are many names that come to mind; Andrew “Rube” Foster, Leroy “Satchel” Paige, Josh Gibson, James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell, Walter “Buck” Leonard, Henry “Hank” Aaron, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, and many more.
Reach For A Dream
Back To Kansas City
Johnny slid his chair back, folded his hands together and continued.
“Buck loved to tell the story that during the grand opening, Willie Mays was so moved by the moment he went back to San Francisco and insisted to his Godson – ‘You get your ass to Kansas City and pay some respect to the players who paved the way for you to play Major League ball.’ Then one day, about a year later, a big limo pulled up out front with his entourage. You know it was Barry Bonds. He struts into the place all high and mighty but after spending a few hours he left with a tearstained face humbled by the experience.”
Kansas City Monarchs
Yes, they were all stars.
So, the next time you’re in Kansas City take a ride to 18th and Vine and you, too, will be moved by the experience.
You just might get the chance to chat with Johnny. Oh …while you’re there stroll across the lobby to hear the vintage sounds in the Jazz Museum, that’s another story.