Ninety-four years ago Thursday, Rube Foster gathered a group of prospective baseball owners at The Paseo YMCA.
As the story goes, he presented to eight men his plan to create the first professional baseball league for black players. The encounter is considered the launching pad for the Negro National League.
Two blocks from where that meeting was once held, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum on Thursday announced a new celebration to help preserve the memory of Foster, Buck O’Neil and others who played instrumental roles in Negro Leagues baseball.
Museum president Bob Kendrick unveiled plans for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum “Hall of Game” — an annual fundraising event that will enshrine its first class on April 12 at the Gem Theater. The four-man inaugural class is comprised of former major-leaguers Lou Brock, Joe Morgan, Dave Winfield and Roberto Clemente.
“The Negro Leaguers built the bridge,” Kendrick said. “This event celebrates those who crossed over the bridge — those who were the benefactors of the passion (and) the perseverance that was displayed in the face of adversity so they could pursue their dreams of playing in the major leagues.”
The Hall of Game, held three days before Jackie Robinson Day, will replace the ceremonial component of the Legacy Awards, which still will be distributed to current players but no longer with a banquet.
“It was getting increasingly difficult to get the young athletes to be a part of the celebration,” Kendrick said. “No matter how special an event we put on, if you don’t have the people that you’re honoring there, it rang a little bit hollow. We felt the event had run its course.”
Brock, Morgan and Winfield have committed to attend the inaugural Hall of Game, Kendrick said. Clemente died in 1972. All four players are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Members of the Hall of Game will be former players from 1959 or later — meaning members of the Negro Leagues will not be eligible. Players from all ethnic backgrounds will be selected in future classes.
“The criteria for getting into the Hall of Game is that you played the game the way they played it in the Negro Leagues — you played with great passion, you played with great determination, you obviously played with great skill and you played it with a little swag,” Kendrick said. “The late Buck O’Neil would say that you couldn’t go to the concession stand because you might miss something that you’ve never seen before. That’s the spirit of what this celebration is all about.”
Each member of the first class was selected based on a unique connection to the Negro Leagues, Kendrick said.
O’Neil, a former Negro American League player and manager who spent the majority of his career with the Kansas City Monarchs, is credited with signing Brock to his first professional contract. Brock spent 16 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals and retired in 1979 as baseball’s career stolen base leader.
Morgan, a former Cincinnati Reds second baseman, said he wrote his college thesis on the Negro Leagues.
Winfield, who played most of his career with the Yankees and Padres, was a 12-time All-Star who kept in contact with a handful of Negro League players, Kendrick said.
Clemente played alongside former Negro Leaguers in Puerto Rico, his native country.
“We knew it was time to go in a different direction with our baseball event and have a group of individuals who I think resonate with baseball fans worldwide,” Kendrick said. “It’s an expansive list, but I wanted to make sure this first class had a unique connection to the Negro Leagues.”