Hank Aaron helps Negro Leagues Baseball Museum celebrate 25th anniversary – Kansas City Star
An 18-year-old Hank Aaron boarded a bus in Mobile, Ala., in 1952 bound for Indianapolis, where he’d join the Clowns of the Negro Leagues.
Aaron didn’t even own a change of clothes, traveled with only a small bag and had $2.50 in his pocket.
“You have start somewhere,” Aaron said Saturday at Bartle Hall, where he was the guest speaker during the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s 25th Anniversary Gala, “and I was fortunate enough to play for a long time.”
Aaron spent only a few months in the Negro Leagues before he was plucked by the Major League Baseball’s Boston Braves and went on to a Hall of Fame career, including a then-record 755 home runs.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum had a similarly modest beginning, but thanks to Buck O’Neil’s vivacious personality and unrelenting optimism coupled with the dedicated efforts of people like NLBM president Bob Kendrick, it’s survived a quarter of a century.
“I think we all dreamed, but, when we were doing this and we were in that little one-room office inside the historic Lincoln Building, we were just dreamers,” Kendrick said. “There were always times when you wondered if it would actually happen.”
Aaron and fellow Hall of Famers Dave Winfield and Ferguson Jenkins took part in a round table discussion about baseball and life at the silver-anniversary gala/, which was called “Silver Slugging Memories.”
“This is a very special night for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, as you can imagine,” said Kendrick, who initially started with the Museum as a volunteer in 1993. “Twenty-five years is a tremendous milestone for any business, much less one that’s as grassroots of an organization as this one is. For us to reach this plateau, really against all odds is amazing, because, when we started this this, nobody really gave us a chance of succeeding.”
The museum’s very existence is important for Aaron and other former Negro Leagues veterans.
“You look at the growth of this institution and then you start thinking about, ‘Where would I be if I had not played in the Negro Leagues?’ ” Aaron said. “There were ballplayers far better than I had anticipated I played with that helped me to get to where I was and play the kind of baseball I dreamed about playing.”
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, who was instrumental as Kansas City’s mayor in establishing the 18th & Vine Jazz District and including the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in that development, and the Chicago White Sox were presented legacy awards for their support of the museum.
Former Negro Leagues players Ernie Banks and Minnie Minoso, who died this year, were remembered during the ceremony.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum also was presented a check for $250,000 from the state of Missouri and received a copy of a bill signed by Gov. Jay Nixon, declaring April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day.
Former Royals All-Stars Willie Wilson and Amos Otis also were among the honored guests during Saturday’s festivities, but Aaron was unquestionably the star.
“He’s my all-time favorite baseball player, my childhood idol,” Kendrick said. “I grew up in Georgia, so anytime I’m around Hank Aaron I’m reduced to that 12-year-old kid when he hit the home run to break Ruth’s record. He just has that kind of presence with me, so this is exciting for me and exciting for the museum.”
Aaron is one of three surviving Negro Leagues players enshrined in Cooperstown, N.Y., along with Willie Mays and Monte Irvin.
“It shows how fragile this history is,” Kendrick said. “When we get a chance to enjoy his support and to celebrate him, it is something that is always exciting.”