Prom­i­nent caps tipped to Ne­gro Leagues

Big vir­tual sa­lute draws ma­jor fig­ures for their 100-year an­niver­sary

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - SPORTS -

Barack Obama tipped his cap. So did three other for­mer U.S. pres­i­dents and a host of prom­i­nent civil rights lead­ers, en­ter­tain­ers and sports greats in a vir­tual sa­lute to the 100-year an­niver­sary of the found­ing of base­ball’s Ne­gro Leagues.

The cam­paign launched Mon­day with pho­tos and videos from, among oth­ers, Hank Aaron, Rachel Robin­son, Derek Jeter, Colin Pow­ell, Michael Jor­dan, Obama and fel­low for­mer Pres­i­dents Ge­orge W. Bush, Bill Clin­ton and Jimmy Carter at tip­pingy­our­cap. com.

On the re­ceiv­ing end of those trib­utes are many of the Ne­gro Leagues’ great­est alumni: Satchel Paige, Josh Gib­son, “Cool Papa” Bell and Jackie Robin­son, who be­gan with the Kansas City Mon­archs and went on to break the color bar­rier in the ma­jor leagues with the Brook­lyn Dodgers in 1947. Not long after, with many of its best play­ers grad­u­ally fol­low­ing Robin­son’s path, the Ne­gro Leagues ceased oper­a­tions.

Singer Tony Ben­nett tipped a San Fran­cisco Giants cap. Cal­i­for­nian Bil­lie Jean King opted for the Los An­ge­les Dodgers. Clin­ton said he chose a Chicago Cubs cap in honor of Ernie Banks, the late Hall of Famer who got his start in the Ne­gro Leagues.

But, Clin­ton added: “This cap is for Hil­lary, too, when fi­nally, the Cubs won the cham­pi­onship. Long be­fore that, the Ne­gro Leagues made base­ball bet­ter and Amer­ica bet­ter.”

The cel­e­bra­tion was moved on­line after a ma­jor league trib­ute to base­ball’s African Amer­i­can pi­o­neers sched­uled for June 27 was shelved — along with the games — be­cause of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

At first, Ne­gro Leagues Base­ball Mu­seum pres­i­dent Bob Ken­drick wor­ried that his long­stand­ing plan to honor the men and women who bat­tled long odds for a game of their own would have to be post­poned, at best.

“In our game, there’s noth­ing more hon­or­able than tip­ping your cap,” Ken­drick said. “And once I re­al­ized that na­tional day of recog­ni­tion was go­ing to fall by the way­side, I thought, ‘OK, maybe we can do it next year.’ But that didn’t re­ally do it.

“So then I thought, ‘How about a vir­tual tip of the cap?’’’ Ken­drick paused, then chuck­led. “And let me say here and now, there is no way I could have done this my­self. I could not be more proud of the re­sponse.”

Ken­drick got the lift he was look­ing for from com­mu­ni­ca­tions spe­cial­ist Dan McGinn and long­time NLBM sup­porter Joe Pos­nan­ski, a sports writer for

The Ath­letic and au­thor of “The Soul of Base­ball,” chron­i­cling his year­long road trip pro­mot­ing the Kansas City-based mu­seum and the sto­ries be­hind it with leg­endary Ne­gro League star, the late Buck O’Neil.

O’Neil was the force be­hind the mu­seum for decades. The NLBM has ex­panded sev­eral times since Rube Foster, as skilled an ex­ec­u­tive as he was a base­ball pitcher, founded the first Ne­gro Na­tional League at a YMCA on the same site in 1920.

Ken­drick said his per­sonal fa­vorite trib­ute came from Jackie Robin­son’s fam­ily.

“It’s Rachel tip­ping her cap, but there’s four gen­er­a­tions of Robin­son women in that video talk­ing about our com­mon cause and it evokes the kind of emo­tion at a time when our coun­try re­ally needs it,” he said.

“And you know,” he added a mo­ment later, “it’s funny how this whole thing worked out. I al­ways felt if there was go­ing to be con­ver­sa­tions about race in sports, the Ne­gro Leagues should be at the cen­ter, be­cause that’s the story: They tri­umphed over ad­ver­sity.

“I got to know so many of them, and not a sin­gle guy that I met ever har­bored ill will, at least to the point where they let it block their path. Ev­ery­body else thought the ma­jor leagues were bet­ter, but you couldn’t con­vince them,” he con­cluded. “They just wanted the chance to prove they could play this game as well as any­body else.”

They did, forg­ing a rich legacy that will echo with a new gen­er­a­tion thanks to some­thing as sim­ple as the vir­tual tip of a cap.

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