Kansas City travelblog: Municipal Stadium & the Negro League Museum
We stood in a light rain Wednesday, on the corner of 22nd Street and Brooklyn Avenue, just east of downtown Kansas City, and a lot of things went through my mind.
I thought of my dad, who in 1967 took our family to this corner, back when a ballpark stood there. Municipal Stadium opened in 1923 and was demolished in 1976 and in between was the home of the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League, the Kansas City Blues of the American Association, the Kansas City Athletics of the American League, the Kansas City Chiefs of the old AFL and Kansas City Royals of the American League.
In 1967, we went to an A’s-Yankee game at Municipal Stadium. Mickey Mantle hit a home run in batting practice. When you’re six, that’s a big deal.
I also thought of Kansas City history and how I’ve been to sporting events at all six of the major venues in KC history – Municipal Stadium, Municipal Auditorium, Arrowhead Stadium, Kauffman Stadium, Kemper Arena and the Sprint Center. I’ve had a blessed life and a blessed career, and just talking about my adventures in KC are enough to ratify that statement.
And I thought of Kansas City pride. Municipal Stadium, where Jackie Robinson played for the Monarchs and Casey Stengel managed the Blues and 59-year-old Satchel Paige pitched three scoreless innings for the Athletics and Garo Yepremian ended the longest game in NFL history with a second-overtime field, sits up the hill a few blocks from 18th and Vine.
The 18th and Vine Historic District was the hub of Kansas City’s black community, and the Monarchs and jazz clubs were the hub of the 18th and Vine District. And the Negro League Museum opened in 1990 in the district, sharing a building with the American Jazz Museum.
A pop in to the Negro League Museum every few years, and my comrades, Joe Mussatto and Nathan Ruiz, hadn’t’ been. So we went Wednesday before the Big 12 Tournament doubleheader.
And I took a detour on the way, to the northwest corner of 22nd and Brooklyn, which now is being developed for housing. A small memorial of Municipal Stadium sits, listing some of the notable dates in the ballpark’s history, with eight hologram-like pictures of some of the athletes who played there. Robinson, Buck Buchanan, Otis Taylor, Amos Otis.
A pretty cool start to our museum visit. We drove the three minutes to the museum with a renewed spirit of history, and the Negro Leagues Museum never disappoints.
Admission is $10, and it probably takes an hour to tour, although you can zip through in less. It offers up the stories of the great players like Cool Papa Bell and Josh Gibson and Oklahoma City’s own Bullet Joe Rogan. The stories of teams like the Monarchs and the Homestead Grays and the Baltimore Elite Giants. The fight for integration in baseball, a fight that was successful and which eventually destroyed the Negro Leagues themselves.
I always find something new at the museum, and this time it was a video about Lester Rodney’s fight to integrate baseball. Rodney was hired in 1936 to produce a sports page for the Communist Party newspaper the Daily Worker. Rodney took up the cause of integration and consistently hammered at baseball to change its ways. Which finally happened in 1947.
The museum tour begins with an introductory short film in a stadium-like theater, and the film opens with a young man in a baseball uniform singing the national anthem. Turns out the singer is George Wesley Jr., the Oklahoma City kid who gained national acclaim signing at the White House as a 9-year-old in 1992.
The guys enjoyed the tour, and I always like going through the gift shop for treasures. About 20 years ago, Trish the Dish bought me for Christmas a Chicago American Giants jacket, which I treasure. On this trip, I found the coolest Homestead Grays jersey. I don’t know if she’ll see this, and I don’t know what I’d ever wear it to, but man, that’s a shirt I’d love to have.
After the museum, Chico (Ruiz) wanted to take a nap, so Saint Joe and I dropped him off at the Marriott Hotel, and we had lunch at Jack Stack barbeque in the historic freight house district (Kansas City is full of historic districts).
Jack Stack is my favorite KC barbeque. I had burnt ends, cut from the point half of smoke meat. They are considered a Kansas City delicacy and often are gone early in the day. But they were good Wednesday.
Then it was back to the hotel for a little work, then to the Sprint Center for the disappointing doubleheader in which both the Cowboys and Sooners lost gut-wrenching games. I wrote an OSU column, then well after midnight I blogged about the Sooner game.
The results meant our visit to KC would be quite short. But memorable, thanks to the preservation of history in Kansas City.