Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

On Saturday, we visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the American Jazz Museum. It was quite the experience.
These two museums are in the same large building and share a lobby because Jazz and baseball have always had a unique relationship. Both are distinctly American, both developed together, and both propelled a golden age in the U.S.

First, we went to the American Jazz Museum. I am a big music fan. I grew up with my dad and grandpa listening to blues and jazz greats, like Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Wynton Marsalis, Muddy Waters, B.B. King and many more, so the Jazz Museum was a treat for me. While walking through the exhibits, there were jazz numbers being played constantly; songs I have heard, a few I have played, and some I have never heard before. On Saturday, the music was being played through a speaker system, but 90 years earlier the music would have been live. Imagine being able to listen to such music greats as Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington, right in the heart of Kansas City.

NLBMOr imagine walking down the street to Blues Stadium to watch a Kansas City Monarchs game. In our case Saturday, we walked across the lobby and back into history. A video entitled “They Were All Stars,” narrated by James Earl Jones began the museum tour. He spoke of the development of the Negro Leagues and how the Leagues came to prominence. However, there was one incredibly impactful line towards the end of the video when Jones said, “Maybe they were too good at what they set out to do.” Meaning, that the establishment of the Negro Leagues was to have black athletes compete at the highest level in the sport of baseball. Soon enough the Leagues became so large and so good, that after the war, the MLB could no longer ignore the segregation in baseball. But in getting to this point of inclusion, the African American communities lost valuable business. The Negro Leagues were the second largest money-maker in dominantly African American communities.

In the exhibit detailing unorganized African American Baseball before the 1920’s, there was an article from an old newspaper that asked Honus “the Flying Dutchman” Wagner, who was the best player he had ever seen play baseball. Wagner answered that the best player in organized baseball was Babe Ruth, but the best player he had ever seen play baseball, was John Henry “Pop” Lloyd. Lloyd was one of the first superstars in the Negro Leagues.

One major thing Nick and I took away from the museum, was that there was definitely more of a community aspect in Negro League ball games. Women came out “dressed to the nines,” men wore suits, and the baseball game were a huge event. Even in barnstorming games in small towns, baseball games were festive. To allow for more attendance, the Kansas City Monarchs became the first team in all of baseball, including the MLB, to put up stadium lights. This innovation increased attendance and allowed for industrial workers, who worked during the day, to attend games. After the games were over, the celebrations typically moved the jazz clubs down the street.

Nick and I spoke of how we were somewhat disappointed that baseball games had lost a lot of this atmosphere, but Saturday evening we were surprised to find that this atmosphere still existed in some places. Experience Baseball went to a Kansas City T-Bones game at CommunityAmerica Park. The T-Bones are an independent baseball team that plays in the American Association baseball league in Kansas City, Kansas. To our surprise, the park was completely filled and the stadium had an air of festivity. It was great to be part of that and see how baseball can be so unifying. Hopefully in our attempts to create a fun baseball experience on Tuesday, we will capture this community driven and festive aspect of baseball.

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