A ‘tip of the cap’ to the Negro Leagues

Photo by Charles Hallman Bob Kendrick at center

The coronavirus pandemic unfortunately killed many summer plans, including a MLB-wide 100th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Negro Leagues. It would have been the first time all 30 MLB clubs recognized the Negro Leagues on the same day (June 22), but then the 2020 season was delayed until later this month.

In lieu of the celebration, “a crazy idea” by Negro League Baseball Museum (NLBM) President Bob Kendrick emerged. He ran it by two friends, who agreed with it. “The three of us went to work, and in about two weeks we put this campaign together,” he told the MSR last week.

Four living former U.S. presidents—Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter—kicked off “Tipping Your Cap” June 26. They were followed by countless past and present athletes, celebrities, politicians, even a little boy shown on a web GIF doing a simple but long-honored gesture.

“There is nothing more honorable in our sport to do [than] a tip of the cap,” explained Kendrick. “It’s the ultimate sign of respect.”

“If I told you that I expected this kind of response, I’d be lying,” he admitted. “We’re overwhelmed by the response on just a crazy idea I had.”

Kendrick works tirelessly as the official ambassador and history curator of the first professional organized Black baseball league that started in 1920. It operated through the Depression years, World War II, and the years after Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color line in 1960.

It also ran virtually simultaneously with Major League Baseball.

“Many people have the mindset that because these guys didn’t play in the major leagues, they missed out on an opportunity,” Kendrick pointed out. “The major leagues might have provided a better opportunity, [but] the quality of play in the Negro Leagues would not take a back seat to any league.

“One league gave the White athlete the best opportunity to showcase their baseball ability. The other did the exact same thing with the best Black and Spanish ballplayers to showcase their baseball ability,” the NLBM president continued.

The Negro Leagues is a part of American history that too often gets segmented into just being about sports. It created and supported a Black economy that hasn’t been seen since its demise nearly seven decades ago. Also, it is a history that is slowly disappearing from our eyes—Kendrick estimates there are about 100 former Negro Leaguers still alive.

“Sometimes guys are passing on and we don’t know about it,” he said. “They are the ones who played at the very end of the Negro Leagues in the late 50s. The guys who played in the ‘30s and ‘40s virtually are all gone.”

“Every time we lose one, we lose a piece of that history,” Kendrick reiterated. “We try to substantiate and collect as much information we can before we lose [them]. This is literally a race against time.”

This reporter has had the pleasure of speaking with several former Negro Leaguers who are no longer with us, including the legendary Buck O’Neil, the brainchild behind the NLBM, located in Kansas City.

Minnesota Twins President Dave St. Peter last week told the MSR that the team plans to honor the Negro Leagues next season. He tipped his cap to the Black players: “We have to find creative ways to celebrate the Negro Leagues. It is critical that we do that.”

“This campaign is not just good for us,” Kendrick concluded, “it is good for baseball. It’s a perfect celebration for the game of baseball and a perfect way for us to welcome baseball back.”

The Tipping Your Cap campaign continues through July 23. Photos and videos can be seen at www.tippingyourcap.com as well as the many posted greetings.