I’ve always liked the turn of phrase: “I’ve forgotten more about [fill-in-the-blank] than you’ll ever know.” That can certainly be said about me, my father and baseball.
I love going to Rockies’ games, but my knowledge of the history of the sport is pretty much limited to “Field of Dreams” and the infamous tale of Shoeless Joe Jackson. And though I’ve seen “42,” the film about Jackie Robinson, I didn’t really understand what the Negro Leagues were. That all changed with a trip to Kansas City, home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
In the late 19th century, one player, Cap Anson, helped erect in the Major Leagues a color barrier that lasted decades. Like in so many other facets of life during segregation, the black community was forced to establish a parallel league, one whose players included some of the sport’s best players of all time.
The museum does an excellent job of establishing context and exploring key figures in the Negro Leagues.
It also highlights the league’s innovations, such as having female players, or introducing electric lights and thereby night games.
But it also outlines the challenges, which ranged from financial to logistical: Where could players literally sleep when travelling through areas where black people were, to put it mildly, not welcome?
Through the story of the Negro Leagues, the museum also conveys the wonder of the baseball’s early days, before everything was so highly professionalized. The Negro Leagues weren’t the only alternative baseball around. One that caught my attention was the all-bearded “House of David,” fielded by a Christian religious cult.
Another oddity: An 1925 exhibition game pitted the black Wichita Monrovians against a white team fielded solely by KKK members. (The black team won.)
When I returned from Kansas City and mentioned to my father that I’d visited a museum about the history of blacks and baseball, he said right away: “You mean the Negro Leagues,” and segued into a few factoids about Satchel Paige. I’m ashamed to say, I’d barely heard of Paige before I visited the museum. More evidence of why my father has forgotten more about baseball than I’ll ever know.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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