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Around KC: A step back in baseball time with a trip to the Negro Leagues Museum

KANSAS CITY -- On the morning of Game One of the World Series, there was no better time than to pay homage to some of baseball's great history. A quick drive from Kauffman Stadium into the city takes you to the Negro Leagues Museum and it's a treasure trove of memories of a different time in the game.

The museum is in the 18th and Vine Historic District, one of the nation's top spots for jazz and just a few blocks from 12th Street and Vine, the intersection made famous in the song "Kansas City" that was a late 50s and early 60s hit.

The museum struggled mightily for a time in recent years, especially after the death of Kansas City Negro Leagues legend and ardent supporter Buck O'Neil in 2006, but this New York Times story in 2013 discusses a comeback. And surely, the exposure of all the postseason baseball here the last month and all the visitors in town will be a boon as well.

The experience starts with a 15-minute film on Negro League and the history of Negroes in the big leagues, narrated by the incomparable voice of James Earl Jones. The artifacts are wondrous, describing what it was like in the days before Jackie Robinson signed with the Dodgers in 1947 and even into the 1950s before the Indians signed Larry Doby. There's information on stadiums, old seats, scorebooks, baseballs. It's as good as what you'd see in Cooperstown.

IMG_5412There's also a trophy from a 1952 Negro tournament won by the Indianapolis Clowns and where was it held? Lo and behold, it was at Offermann Stadium in Buffalo. The Clowns, who had a youngster named Hank Aaron on their team at that time, actually relocated to Buffalo for a few years in the early 1950s but were never actually known by the name of the city.

Tim Graham did a fascinating story on all this in The News in 2004 and it's reprinted on this Web site that includes several pictures. You scroll down to see the trophy presentation of July 26, 1952 -- and that's the trophy I saw today pictured here (click the picture for a bigger look, including the inscription that has the stadium name spelled wrong).

Ray Dandridge

Ray Dandridge

The centerpiece at the close of the self-guided tour is the statue diamond of Negro League stars dubbed the "Field of Legends". Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and the like are all here. And so is Buffalo's own Ray Dandridge (left), who is shown in the uniform of the Newark Eagles. Dandridge, who was born in Richmond, Va., but spent most of his formative years in Buffalo, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987.

This is not a Negro League Hall of Fame. It's a museum to promote the history of this period in baseball. Players inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown have a locker with a replica of their plaques that also contains a jersey from one of their teams.

You can go to the Museum's official Web site here and its Wikipedia page also has plenty of information and links. You can see it all in about 90 minutes but for baseball fans, it's an absolute must-do in KC.

As I was driving away, it was just a couple of blocks to an incredible street mural featuring the Kansas City Monarchs, the city's famed Negro League team, and Hall of Famer Satchel Paige. It's very impressive and there were plenty of World Series folks snapping photos of it.

Here's a look:


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