Within moments of taking the stage Sunday morning, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver had turned a large, inconspicuous tent outside the Royals Hall of Fame building into a hallowed church for baseball fans.
“I’m going to come from the new baseball testament,” he began. “And the prophet Yogi Berra said, ‘It ain’t over ’til it’s over.’ ”
Thus set the tone for his humorous and thought-provoking speech at the inaugural Sunday Jazz Brunch, which kicked off a day of events saluting the Negro Leagues in “Dressed to the Nines Day at the K.” The brunch featured a full breakfast buffet and live jazz from Kenny Glover and BMW.
Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, kicked off the event by declaring that “We have made baseball fashionable again.”
Women wore dresses, heels and hats, and men wore suits and ties fitting for the theme.
“It’s wonderful for this city and wonderful for baseball, especially the legacy of the Negro Leagues,” former Kansas City Monarch George Altman said. “So many great players needed to be remembered.”
Altman was one of four former Negro Leagues players celebrated at the event. He was joined by Henry “Pistol” Mason, Art “Superman” Pennington and Ernie “Schoolboy” Johnson. Former major-leaguers Diego Segui and Joe Azcue, whom Kendrick called “honorary Negro Leaguers,” were also recognized.
Altman, who played for the Monarchs in 1955 before going to the major leagues, made the trip Sunday morning from St. Louis with his wife and lauded the efforts made by Kendrick and the museum to embrace the game’s history.
“At one time it seemed like they were being forgotten, but Bob Kendrick and the Negro Leagues Museum and Buck O’Neil brought it back to the forefront,” Altman said. “I’m happy to see that.”
Kansas City native Suann Daise, who donned a red and white polka dot dress to the affair, said she makes a point to take friends and family to the museum when they are in town. She said as soon as she found out about the brunch she jumped online to buy a pair of tickets. They sold for $25, and $5 of each sale went back to the museum.
“It’s incredible,” Daise said. “Finding the outfit was so much fun and putting it all together. We’re around such great people and Rev. Cleaver had a great sermon.”
As the morning went on, Cleaver’s sermon took a more serious turn as he addressed the recent events in Ferguson, Mo., that followed the death of Michael Brown. He suggested that after meeting with disgruntled youths over the last several months they could benefit from a glimpse into the determination of the Negro League players.
“It would be good if they could have seen the Negro Leagues or had a chance to talk to the players, many of whom are here today,” Cleaver said. “The walls didn’t come down, so they climbed them. Young people all over the country, not just African-Americans and Latinos, but everyone needs to know that you can climb walls.”
Cleaver wrapped up his sermon with a simple plea for the crowd to climb or even knock down walls of adversity as a true testament to the lasting influence of the Negro Leagues in Kansas City.
Jermaine Reed, who is a council member for the third district in Kansas City, said he saw the league’s reflection in the enthusiasm emanating from the metro area in light of the Royals’ recent success and the commitment to Dressed to the Nines Day.
“I’m impressed, but I expected it,” Reed said. “It’s a good representation of what Kansas City is and what baseball is all about. No one cares who is at bat, who is at second or who’s at first. It’s a team effort, and that is what Kansas City is about.”