Players Association, MLB award $1 million grant to Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
The Major League Baseball Players Association and Major League Baseball on Wednesday put $1 million behind their shared belief that the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum preserves a part of baseball culture that is vital to the game's future and its ability to attract African-American athletes.
MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred joined NLBM President Bob Kendrick during a morning ceremony at the 27-year-old museum in Kansas City's historic 18th & Vine Jazz District.to announce the joint contribution from the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation.
“Today's players are committed to providing opportunities for underserved populations to play baseball,” said Clark, the first former player and the first African-American to lead the players' union. “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.”
According to the Society of American Baseball Research, the number of African-American major leaguers is floating around its lowest level since 1957. SABR's review concluded that just 6.7 percent of major leaguers were African American in 2016, down dramatically from the high point of 18.7 pct. in 1981.
Reversing that trend has become a top priority for the union and Major League Baseball as they jointly try to grow the industry and compete with other sports for the world's best athletes. The Youth Development Foundation was created to reinvigorate the game at its grassroots levels in the United States, where barriers to play have emerged in economically disadvantaged communities.
The grant is intended to help inspire future generations of minority youth to play baseball by helping to ensure the museum continues telling the stories of the more than 2,600 African-American players who competed in the Negro Leagues when the industry was segregated.
“The Negro Leagues played an important role in not only changing the game but America, too,” NLBM president Bob Kendrick said. “This significant grant allows us to continue to preserve, educate and celebrate a once forgotten but compelling chapter of American history. It also gives us the wherewithal to use this compelling story as a tool to inspire future generations to ‘play ball!'”
The contribution will be ear-marked to support the NLBM's operations, museum services, expansion, and educational and community programming.
In particular, a portion of the funds will allow the museum to complete the Buck O'Neil Education and Research Center on the site of the Paseo YMCA, where the original Negro Leagues charter was signed in 1920 and all of the learning and understanding that sprouts from its exhibits.
The museum was founded in 1990 in a one-room office in Kansas City and now has 10,000 square feet of exhibit space featuring multimedia computer stations, several film exhibits, hundreds of photographs, a replica field with 12 bronze sculptures and a growing collection of artifacts.
“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,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said. “We appreciate the museum's contributions to baseball and the role it can play in encouraging young people to become a part of our game.”
African-Americans played on Major League and Minor League teams alongside white players in the late 1800s, but racism and “Jim Crow” laws forced them from these teams by the turn of the century.
In the early 1900s, African-American players began to form their own “barnstorming” teams that would travel around the country to play anyone who would challenge them.
The Negro Leagues were founded during a Feb. 13, 1920 meeting at the Paseo YMCA building in Kansas City at which Andrew “Rube” Foster brought together the eight original franchise owners together and asserted his vision for the future of African-American baseball.
The Negro National League was the first Negro League to reach stability and last more than one season. Soon, rival leagues formed in Eastern and Southern states, bringing the thrills and innovative play of black baseball to major urban centers and rural countrysides in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America.
The Leagues maintained a high level of professional skill and became centerpieces for economic development in many black communities.
Although Jackie Robinson breaking Baseball's color barrier was an historic event and a key moment in baseball and civil rights history, it prompted the decline of the Negro Leagues. Soon after Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, the best black players were recruited for the Major Leagues, and black fans followed.
The last Negro Leagues teams folded in the early 1960s, but their legacy lives on through the surviving players and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
For more information about the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, please visit www.nlbm.com