Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bob Kendrick: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President

               One of the more under-appreciated elements of baseball history is the Negro Leagues. Barred from playing in the Majors, black players instead played at the highest level of competition in their own leagues. Legendary players like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Rube Foster rivaled or exceeded the popularity and productivity of any stars in the Big Leagues.

                Once Jackie Robinson integrated professional baseball in 1947, the Negro Leagues slowly began to decline, finally closing altogether by the mid 1960’s. Their rich history is always in danger of slipping away each year, with the passing of more former players. Fortunately, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, founded in 1990 in Kansas City, is around to preserve the legacy of the past, and educate new people about a part of the game they may not be so familiar with.

                Bob Kendrick is the president of the museum, and is charged with overseeing its day-to-day operations. He had an extensive background with the museum before assuming its top position. Under his leadership, the NLBM has flourished, and is one of the must-see sites for any fan of baseball.
                Mainstream media often ignored or lightly covered the Negro Leagues, so capturing its history can be a challenge for the NLBM. There are so many individuals and great moments that deserve to be remembered for what they brought to baseball, that the work to illuminate their impact is constantly ongoing. President Kendrick is not only an excellent leader, but also a student of the game, and that combination makes him the perfect fit to oversee the NLBM.

                Recently, I had the pleasure of exchanging emails with Mr. Kendrick, and I was able to find out a lot more about his job and the NLBM. After reading his interview, please visit for more information.

Bob Kendrick Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?: I grew up in Crawfordville, GA, a small, rural town approximately 80 miles East of Atlanta and 50 miles West of Augusta. My father loved baseball and so did my five older brothers who all played a lot of community ball. So, the love of the game was passed down to me. By age 5, I became an Atlanta Braves fan and remain a Braves fan today.

What is your background with Negro League baseball prior to your current job?: Actually, this is my return to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM). I became a volunteer member of the museum’s board in 1993 providing marketing and public relations support for the organization. I served for 5 years before becoming the museum’s first full-time Marketing Director in 1998. I left the NLBM as Vice President of Marketing in February of 2010 to become the Executive Director of the National Sports Center for the Disabled-Kansas City. In April of this year, I returned to the NLBM to become its president.
What do your job duties entail?: I’m responsible for the day-to-day operations of the 501 c3 not-for-profit organization along with fundraising, public & media relations, strategic planning, etc.

What is the current biggest need for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum?: Like most museums and particularly cultural institutions, the biggest need is funding. The NLBM has been successful,  through the years, of developing both traditional and non-traditional streams of revenue to support operations and program initiatives.

How much involvement do you have from former Negro League players?: The former players have always been very supportive. Unfortunately, we’ve seen the number of surviving Negro Leaguers dwindle dramatically over recent years. We’re still hopeful of planning a reunion in the not-so-distant future.

Does your museum do any crossover work with the Baseball Hall of Fame?: Yes. The Hall of Fame and NLBM have always been supportive of each other. Hall president, Jeff Idelson, was recently in KC where he participated in a luncheon at the museum. And, of course they just gave the Buck O’Neil Award to Roland Hemond, as part of the recent Hall of Fame Ceremonies. The Hall has been a great friend and partner.

You were a close friend of Buck O'Neill. Can you talk a little bit about what he meant to you?: He meant the world to me! I consider myself to be extremely fortunate and blessed to have had the opportunity to work with one of the finest human beings ever and to be able to call him a friend. I never saw anyone, in my lifetime, that could bridge the gap between black & white, men & women, young and old the way Buck could. His spirit and positive outlook on life was infectious. I learned so much being around him and really glad that I was smart enough to keep my mouth closed and just listen because he had a lot of wisdom to impart… if you wanted it. I tried to soak as much of it up as I possibly could.

Are you still uncovering new people who played in the Negro Leagues and if so, how hard is it to verify them with the frequent lack of good records?: Today, it’s not as much uncovering new people who played, but occasionally finding guys we didn’t know were still alive. Every now and then, we will get a call about a player who people are looking for verification that they played. That does pose a challenge. 
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