More than two years after being passed over for a job even the late Buck O’Neil said he should have, Bob Kendrick has been selected president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
The move represents an abrupt about-face for the beleaguered museum’s board of directors, who in December 2008 voted 8-7 in favor of giving the job to Greg Baker and not Kendrick, who at the time was the museum’s longtime marketing director.
“It’s home,” Kendrick, 48, said Wednesday. “There’s a strong emotional attachment there.”
Kendrick doesn’t say those words lightly. He knows he has his work cut out for him.
Baker resigned from the $115,000-a-year position last fall, around the same time that news broke of the nonprofit’s third consecutive six-figure loss. The museum, which in 2010 had an annual operating budget of $1.5 million, in January canceled one of its biggest fundraisers of the year, the Legacy Awards Show.
“We made a mistake,” acknowledged board chair Betty Brown, in choosing Baker over Kendrick.
No reason was given for Baker’s resignation in October, and he did not return a phone message Wednesday asking for comment.
Kendrick’s love for the museum in the 18th and Vine district and its vision is helping him overlook the pain of being denied the job the first time.
Brown called him in January asking, “Would you consider coming back to the museum if the opportunity presented itself, or are you just done with us?”
After much deliberation — two months of negotiations, in fact — Kendrick decided it was an offer he could not refuse.
He had stayed with the museum for the first 14 months of Baker’s term before resigning last February and accepting an executive position with the National Sports Center for the Disabled. Even after leaving, Kendrick attended several museum functions because, he said, his passion for the project never wavered.
Brown cited that passion as one key reason the board wanted to bring him back. Another is Kendrick’s fundraising chops and connections within baseball.
Brown also said that feedback from the community did nothing to hurt Kendrick’s cause. He was chosen over four other candidates.
“I had community leaders, sponsors and people who were donating money come to me,” Brown said. “When Bob wasn’t there, there was a little concern because the atmosphere was different. He has that charisma, that personality.”
Kendrick’s first order of business is to rekindle relationships with those donors.
“We’ve got some work to do rebuilding the brand, which became tarnished somewhat the last two years,” Kendrick said.
While Kendrick will report to the board, he said he has been assured — and Brown confirmed — that he’ll have the freedom to do what he think must be done to turn around the museum’s fortunes.
“We’ll rely heavily on his opinion,” Brown said. “I don’t think it will be a tug of war. He’ll have as much freedom as he needs with the support of the board, provided he’s doing the right things and I don’t have any doubt he’ll do the right things.”
Kendrick, who will be introduced today at the museum, isn’t officially scheduled to begin work for a few weeks, but he said he has already talked to several prominent figures in baseball — former stars Ozzie Smith, Dave Winfield and Willie Wilson, among them — who are willing to help the cause any way they can.
Kendrick refuses to think it might be too late to restore the museum’s luster.
“You can stand on the sidelines and watch it happen, or you can get in the game and try to take care of it,” Kendrick said. “My choice was to get back in the game. This museum is bigger than any of us.”