Where have you gone, Buck O'Neil?
March 9, 2010 9:26 AM   Subscribe

"Feel sorry for the people who never got to see us," he once said. "We were good." The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City faces a $200,000 shortfall for 2009. The museum is battling both the recession and its own backers, as new management tries to distance itself from founder Buck O'Neil, a move that induced long-time supporter Joe Posnanski to announce that he would "never set foot in there again." Will this chapter of baseball history be forgotten? Or can Strat-O-Matic save the Negro Leagues? (Previously on MetaFilter: Buck O'Neil denied a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame.)
posted by escabeche (16 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
And with that, I'm looking into how to make a donation.

I have to live up to my namesake.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:49 AM on March 9, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm unable to get to the Whitlock column, which I'm sure will provide the missing piece here. Why the hell would anybody, in charge of the Negro Leagues Museum, want to distance themselves from Buck O'Neil?
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:50 AM on March 9, 2010 [5 favorites]

Toodleydoodley: this column by Posnanski, sort of half-explains it. Insider board politics.

Its a classic example of how personalities can kill a nonprofit once the founder is out of the picture.
posted by anastasiav at 9:53 AM on March 9, 2010

I visited the Negro Leagues Museum a couple months ago. I recommend the museum to anyone who gets the chance to see it. It captures a somewhat forgotten angle to the story of race in the 20th century, and O'Neil had a better perspective on this than anyone.

I don't know much about the issues above (besides that O'Neil's HoF denial is an obvious travesty). It does looks like Bob Kendrick, the guy O'Neil favored to take over for him, stayed with the museum after losing the Exec Director vote in 2008 until a month ago. Seems like he was happy to work for Baker, or at least his loyalty to the museum ran deeper than personalities. Either way, I'm not sure how Posnanski's protest helps.

It's certainly disappointing that they've de-emphasized Buck O'Neil's birthday celebration as a fundraiser, but on the other hand, O'Neil man himself would have been the main attraction for that event. That's not necessarily distancing the organization from O'Neil, just trying to figure out what course to take now that he's died.
posted by danthony at 10:21 AM on March 9, 2010

Wow, how very sad. It seems that there was a confluence of problems, possibly beginning with the Museum riding too faithfully on O'Neill's back over the years and not building a secure foundation for itself while he was still alive. Now that he has died, they are discovering that they have no actual footing upon which to stand. (You really cannot build a long-lived organization based on one person's existence and efforts, no matter how charismatic that person is.)

The real question is going to be whether this new director, put into place through questionable internal politics, has the actual moxie and force of will to move the Museum into a new era. This will not involve "distancing" anything or anyone from O'Neill. But it will, out of necessity, involve putting him into proper perspective and not using him as the main tentpole from which the Museum hangs.

I really REALLY hope they find their way through this. Negro League Baseball was one of those wonders of American history, when the sheer bigotry of the country actually served to create something original and unique and possibly even of higher quality than what it was shadowing. It deserves a museum that can live beyond its founder, and if it's still around by the time I have some travel funds again in my life, I will be going to visit it as part of my first trip.
posted by hippybear at 10:38 AM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Politics or not, let me say to all good and upstanding MeFites, this is a nonprofit worth support. I've been to museums all over the world and the NLBM remains one of my two or three favorites - well ahead of a lot of places with a lot more to spend. I'm as much a baseball fan as one can reasonably be, and I hate the way the history of the game is sanitized and pastoralized to market it. It's a tremendous success in telling the wide scope of the history of the leagues in detail without suffocating or boring the visitor, and it captures both the sadness and the beauty of those stories like no place else. If you care about history, about baseball, about race in America, or hell, just the wonder of people striving to be great at something, you won't want it to disappear.
posted by el_lupino at 10:41 AM on March 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

this is a nonprofit worth support.

it's so hard. The museum collections and content are undoubtedly worth support - but the nonprofit itself isn't just the stuff, it's the people, the board and ED especially. This board is pretty messed up and their new director is beginning his reign under a cloud. It doesn't bode too well. Perhaps there can be some coalition developed to get things back on track within the organization.
posted by Miko at 11:11 AM on March 9, 2010

I got turned on to Joe Posnanski by this post about Red Klotz and picked up his book The Soul of Baseball. Great stuff. I'd love to visit the museum someday, no matter who's running it. I hope it stays open long enough for me to make it there.
posted by asperity at 11:40 AM on March 9, 2010

anastasiav, thanks for the link. I did read that one, in which he referred to WHitlock's column. Jason Whitlock has a talent for excavating straight to the bottom of any heap of bullshit, and hopefully the link to his page will unspin itself and resolve at some point. until then, I understand that it's "nonprofit politics as usual."
posted by toodleydoodley at 12:06 PM on March 9, 2010

The museum is great. I've been three times and enjoyed each visit. It is tragic that board politics might destroy it.
posted by hworth at 3:39 PM on March 9, 2010

I have to live up to my namesake.
posted by Cool Papa Bell

Stepping up to the plate, so to speak..
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 4:47 PM on March 9, 2010

I was in KC for some railroad courses a few years ago and spent a Saturday afternoon at the museum and the Arthur Bryant's down the street. Easily the best part of the trip.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 5:44 PM on March 9, 2010

I can just picture this. I’ll even take a guess before I read the articles. Humor me.

Firstly, I’ve been to a sports museum of sorts. It was a reasonably large one in the foyer of our state’s elite sports institute. And it was free.

Fairly interesting stuff. Namely pictures, trophies, articles of sporting equipment worn by the greats, and a good summary of their careers. Not something that I’d pay for, and I’m not sure how it could be made any more interesting. Maybe have an auditorium with some archival footage playing?

I bet you this mob want to be like the Guggenheim. Have a nice big Board with fat honorariums for Board membersand fully catered meetings. Maybe even a salary for the chairman.

Combine this with not getting enough people in the door and they’re going to be burning cash from the word go. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. With thousands and thousands of things vying for our attention this sort of thing belongs as a free exhibit in the entrance of a baseball stadium and that’s about it.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:12 PM on March 9, 2010

I could give a shit about baseball, in general. No apologies... I just don't have that much interest in the game. I give a shit about history, however, and I'm rather fond of museums.

More than that, though, I -- like most everybody who spent any time at all in Kansas City -- had a real affection for Buck O'Neil, and when the Negro League Baseball Museum opened its doors as the centerpiece of KC's 18th & Vine district I found the place profoundly moving. More, I found Buck genuinely charming and warm; generous with his time and his talent for storytelling.

And so I find it inexplicable and appalling that the work that Buck poured so much of his heart and soul into is at risk for... what? Petty politics? That's about enough to make a grown man cry.
posted by deCadmus at 10:43 PM on March 9, 2010

It's super hard to evaluate what happened and what's going on without some more reporting.
posted by Miko at 5:57 AM on March 10, 2010

for what its worth you, if anyone is is a fan of sports you simply MUST read joe posnanski's blog...
posted by knockoutking at 4:50 PM on March 10, 2010

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