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Five must-see gems at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Five gems to see at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

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On a recent Monday afternoon, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick is running late. As Major League Baseball's All-Star Game approaches, Kendrick is taking meetings and giving interviews at a dizzying pace. One of the little sentimental joys of waiting in his office lobby is reading the framed sports page from August 6, 1994, covering the opening of the museum's new space in the 18th and Vine Jazz District. The headline announces the Royals winning their 14th straight game.

Kendrick says he's been talking with USA Today and a Fox Sports scouting team. The network is going to run a piece about the museum during the pregame show.

"We could never afford to buy that [exposure]," he says of his operation, which has a staff of eight.

Kendrick says the museum isn't going to squander Kansas City's five days in the center of the baseball universe. His staff is training 50 volunteers to work at both the museum and a display at the MLB All-Star FanFest at Bartle Hall. And the museum is spending about $100,000 to spruce up its facilities. This afternoon, the carpet is still damp from a cleaning, and a crew is laying new carpet in the museum store.

"You can't invite people over to your house without getting your house clean," says Kendrick, who took over as president in May 2011. "We're going through some major housecleaning right now."

Kendrick is optimistic that the game and special museum events will attract visitors from FanFest and from their hotels to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

"There is so much riding on this game for the museum," he says. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum."

Kendrick carved an hour out of his schedule to highlight five must-see attractions for baseball fans and tourists.

Field of Legends

"It all starts with the Field of Legends," Kendrick says. The mock baseball diamond features 10 statues of Negro Leagues greats who have been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

"What makes this display so powerful is that these life-size statues are cast in position, as if they were playing the game. That's the centerpiece of the exhibition," Kendrick says. "It's one of the most compelling displays in any museum anywhere in the world."

Ty Cobb–Jackie Robinson Signed Ball

Ty Cobb was one of the first players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. For decades, he held the MLB record for most career hits. He was one of the best ever to pick up a bat. He was also a known racist. The guy once picked a fight with a black groundskeeper, then strangled the groundskeeper's wife when she tried to break it up. That makes a baseball signed by Cobb and former Negro Leagues players Jackie Robinson, James "Junior" Gilliam, Joe Black and Roy Campanella a real oddity.

"Cobb, of course, was one of the greatest players in Major League Baseball history, but he's also held as the majors' most racist player," Kendrick says. "Cobb really didn't like anybody — black, white, blue, green, red. He didn't like anybody during his playing days. He mellowed as he got a little bit older."

The mystery of the ball is whether Cobb knew that his signature was sharing space on the horsehide with the autographs of four black men. "What we don't know is the sequence of the signatures," Kendrick says. But the leading theory is that Cobb got to the ball first. "The late, great Buck O'Neil used to say, 'I know Cobb signed that ball first!' " Kendrick says.

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