KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Any time a current major leaguer walks into the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Bob Kendrick likes to provide insight into the hardships endured by the players of yesteryear.
The NLBM president since 2011 and a longtime employee, Kendrick has regaled many current and former big leaguers with tales of legends Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck O’Neil and the difficult times those players faced to play baseball.
One passage Kendrick often recounts to deliver more awareness is how Paige in 1938 received $1 of meal money per day from a Mexican League club that signed him in the hopes of making a big splash to challenge Major League Baseball, which had yet to be integrated. Paige’s huge payday is the 2017 equivalent of about $16.77 per day and pales with modern big leaguers, who still receive a significantly bigger per diem despite the addition of a full-time chef in the clubhouse for each game. Kendrick views these visits as his chance to help raise awareness and interest in the Museum, which has been open since 1990 and had more than 60,000 visitors last year.
“I think players gain a different perspective,” Kendrick said. “When you do something like they do and make a great living doing it, there’s a tendency to take for granted what you have. But then you come here and witness what these men did for the love of the game, the sacrifices they made, the challenges that they had to overcome to play this game, all of a sudden it gives you a different perspective about just how good things are.”
Tim Anderson, Todd Frazier and Rick Renteria were part of a White Sox contingent that visited the museum located in the historic 18th & Vine district early Tuesday. Whether it’s chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s love of all things Jackie Robinson or Kenny Williams’ team-mandatory trip in 2006, Kendrick said the White Sox have always had a strong relationship with the Negro Leagues museum.
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Anderson — who recently signed an extension that could pay him $50.5 million over the next eight seasons — appreciates the history he has learned with both of his trips to the museum. He also visited last season on the final Kansas City trip in mid-September.
“The museum is really amazing,” Anderson said. “I’m really blessed. For them to have a dollar, and the money we have now, I treasure that and don’t forget where I started from.”
A one-room room facility when it first opened in 1990, the museum moved across the street seven years later into a 10,000-square foot facility. Kendrick said the Museum’s most ardent supporters in the early days were Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones and LaTroy Hawkins, who stopped in when the Minnesota Twins visited Kansas City. Now, roughly 10 teams visit per season, according to Kendrick. He offers players and coaches personal tours because he knows word of mouth is critical for the NLBM’s profile. Bryce Harper provided the Museum a boost last year by posting on Instagram after he and Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker visited.
“It’s always exciting to have an opportunity to show off the museum, particularly to those who make their living in the game of baseball,” Kendrick said. “Most of the athletes we meet are so young and so they don’t have any idea unless they are really, really astute in the history of our sport.
“We need these ballplayers carrying that message and to want to come by and experience the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.”
Frazier shared his experience via Twitter on Tuesday. He took a picture with the statue of fellow third baseman Ray Dandridge, who played for 10 teams in a career that began with the Detroit Stars in 1933 and ended with the Bismarck Barons in 1955. A great average hitter, Dandridge was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987. A second-time visitor himself, Frazier is always impressed when he hears about what Negro Leagues players endured just to keep playing baseball. A storyteller himself, Frazier said he appreciates Kendrick’s yarns and the nicknames he provides.
“The guy’s stories are unbelievable,” Frazier said. “He is a smart human being. He knows everything. The sayings he’s got for everybody, the stories, it felt like I was in that era.”