The Jackie Robinson movie “42” is my kind of movie. It’s about baseball and history, which I love. And it’s a real story with real people and real drama that crappy reality TV will never in a million years give its audience.
Jackie Robinson, of course, was the first African-American to play major league baseball. On April 15, 1946, he put on a jersey with the number 42 and became not just a Brooklyn Dodger, but a major player in the steps toward racial equality in the United States.
April 15 is now Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball and all on-field personnel wear a number 42 that day.
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The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City
However, before Jackie Robinson wore #42, he wore #5 and played for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues. Jackie’s story is prominent, but certainly not the only one of significance told at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.
Here you learn more about great athletes like Cool Papa Bell, whose 11 second base running record still stands; and Satchel Paige, the best pitcher he ever batted against, said Joe DiMaggio.
And of course, the revered Hall of Famer Buck O’Neil, the first black manager in the major leagues and a scout for the Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Royals. Without Buck, the Negro Leagues Museum might not exist and so many great stories would surely have not been preserved. Check out the bridge named for Buck O’Neil that crosses the Missouri River and the seat in his honor at Kauffman Stadium.
The old Paseo Street YMCA, the meeting place where the Negro National League was formed, has now been remodeled and named the Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center. Among the many activities, you can learn the science and math that allowed Satchel Paige to throw a fast ball in the heat and humidity of a St. Louis summer.
More Than Black Baseball in Kansas City
During a home game each June (the date varies each year) the Kansas City Royals host a salute to the Negro Leagues with special uniforms and events at Kauffman Stadium. Be sure to “dress to the nines” when you go to that game. And if you don’t know what it means to “dress to the nines,” you’ll find out during a tour of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
The museum is so much more than the story of baseball and a few black guys who played the game. It digs deep into the period of segregation and the evolution of American society that began the day that Jackie Robinson put on the jersey with # 42 on the back.
It also showcases the women of the Negro Leagues: Toni Stone, Connie Morgan and Mamie Johnson. They coped with sexism and racism for the game they loved.
Museum exhibits include white people who helped make the Negro Leagues a success — people like J.L. Wilkinson, whom Buck O’Neil said was the first person he ever met that had no prejudice.
Or the many sports reporters who passionately called for the commissioner of baseball to end desegregation in the game they all loved. And certainly Branch Rickey, managers of the Dodgers, who handed Jackie Robinson that contract.
The movie “42” should be on your list of movies to watch over and over again. And the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City should be on your list of destinations to visit that will change the way you enjoy sports and cause you to appreciate the richness of diversity that make our lives so interesting today.
Note: While at the Museum, visit the American Jazz Museum next door.
Learn More About Baseball
Attend a Kansas City Monarchs Game in Kansas City Kansas
Just across the state line, Kansas City Kansas is home to the Kansas City Monarchs, a 21st century rendition of the Negro Leagues team. The Monarchs are an Independent League team that partners with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
Legends Field helps keep the story of the Negro Leagues alive. Throughout the concourse, you’ll find exhibits on some of the original Monarchs, including Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Ernie Banks, Buck O’Neil and Jackie Robinson.
And “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the 7th inning stretch is led by a videotaped Buck O’Neil from the Ken Burns’ PBS special on baseball. It’s a moment that brings tears to serious baseball fans.