The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum has done so many things. Seen so much. They have been hosts to presidents. They have welcomed Hall of Famers. Theyve received checks from baseball stars (though not enough of them), theyve thrown black-tie galas, and theyve sung along with The Temptations.
They started out in a crowded room with no money. A group of believers took turns paying the rent. Eventually, they were talked about on David Letterman, recognized with a permanent statue of Buck ONeil in Cooperstown, stared bankruptcy in the face through a bad economy and mismanagement by a former executive director, and are now seeing brighter days.
Theyve done so much at the museum. But heres a new one: Theyve never hosted a major motion picture. Never had to turn people away. Never had to say no to money. This is what they call a good problem.
Right now were riding a pretty good high, museum president Bob Kendrick says. I even had to turn down corporate sponsors. You know how much that hurt me?
Financially, this is one of the most important weeks in the museums 23-year history, right up there with last summers All-Star Game, two presidents visits, the reunion in 2000 and anything Buck ONeil ever did.
Harrison Ford is here, along with his co-star Chadwick Boseman, for a red carpet event for the new 42 movie about baseball star and civil-rights pioneer Jackie Robinson. There is an advance screening of the movie tonight and then a panel discussion led by former Star sportswriter Joe Posnanski.
Tickets sold out almost immediately, more than $10,000 generated within three hours, which put Kendrick in the unprecedented position of turning down corporate money.
Robinsons story has been told many, many times but never in a modern feature film. For such an important part of our nations history, its a long time coming. No place in the world has done more to tell the story of baseballs segregation and then integration than the Negro Leagues museum. Its only right that the people who made 42 come here before showing the rest of the world.
One can hope that more people will be exposed to that now. One can hope that this can help a Kansas City jewel. The museum is overdue for a break. This story going mainstream can be that break.
Its easy to think sometimes that if not for Robinson, someone else would have broken baseballs color barrier. Thats true, but obscures so much. Robinson was chosen for his demeanor (the guts not to fight back, as the scene from the trailer puts it) as much as his ability (he won Rookie of the Year in 1947, then MVP in his third season).
If not for the partnership of the level-headed Robinson with forward-thinking Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, there is no telling how long major-league baseball would have abided by the unwritten code of excluding players with dark skin. A year later? Three years? Six? Ten?
Robinson integrated baseball before President Harry Truman integrated the military. Robinson was in his seventh season when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education and a year from retirement when Rosa Parks sat in the front of that bus. By then, Robinson had helped create something like equality in baseball the percentage of blacks in the game was higher than in the general population.
If not for Robinson, maybe we wouldnt know Hank Aaron as a major-leaguer. Or Ernie Banks. Or Willie Mays. If the conditions were right for Robinson or someone else to integrate the major leagues sooner, maybe we could have known Oscar Charleston as a major-leaguer. Or Cool Papa Bell. Or Josh Gibson. Maybe we could have known the entire careers of Satchel Paige and Monte Irvin.
Those are all Hall of Famers, each of them with careers substantially impacted or that could have been impacted by the integration Robinson brought.
So its only right that the Negro Leagues museum can be part of this, only right that Ford is bringing his celebrity and Boseman is donating a uniform he wore during filming. Nobody has done more to emphasize the importance and meaning of what Robinson did than Kendrick and the wonderful staff at the museum.
Now that a movie will tell part of that story to a much bigger audience, the museum is happy for the residual attention.
This place has been through so much. But never this, one of the best weeks in the museums history.