Gaze at a photo from an old Negro Leagues game, and it’s easy to be mesmerized by the legendary players.
But look in the stands and something sticks out. The fans are nearly all well-dressed.
“That was an era of dressing,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, “so that no matter where you went, you looked good.”
Harkening back to that era, a group of local fans started a grassroots campaign two years ago to have fans wear their finest clothes for a Royals game. It was such a hit last season that the Royals jumped on board for this Sunday’s Dressed to the Nines event, when the team plays Baltimore at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals will give out Kansas City Monarchs fedoras to the first 10,000 fans through the gates on Sunday, and a group of former Negro Leagues players will be signing autographs before the game inside Gate A.
On the field, the Royals (Kansas City Monarchs) and Orioles (Baltimore Black Sox) will wear throw-back uniforms. They will later be auctioned off, with proceeds going to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
It’s all part of the Royals’ Salute to the Negro Leagues.
“We’re trying to make baseball fashionable again,” Kendrick said. “Even though it may be just one game out of the year, it is a true vintage throwback to yesteryear, but it’s from the fan’s perspective.”
Kendrick said he was approached last year by Brett Parker, Elizabeth Belden and Brad Belden, who originally hatched the plan. Kendrick enthusiastically threw his support behind the trio.
There’s a bit of history to the sharp-dressed men and women at the games, according to Kendrick. At one time, major-league teams didn’t play on Sundays, so Negro Leagues teams would rent the stadiums and play doubleheaders.
“Negro Leagues games were as much a social event as they was a recreational event,” Kendrick said. “People literally were leaving church and heading straight to the ballpark. And the Monarchs were so popular that black churches would actually move their service times up an hour. If you know anything about the black church, that was unheard of.
“That speaks to the reverence of the Monarchs, as well as other successful teams across the country. This was pretty commonplace.”
Former Negro Leagues players also will be at the museum on Saturday when a new exhibit, “Negro Leagues Beisbol” makes its debut.
Kendrick said that Negro Leagues players often were the first Americans to play baseball in Spanish-speaking countries, and the exhibit looks back at that time.
“This is one of the most important exhibits we have ever done,” Kendrick said, “because of this little-known relationship between American-born African-American baseball players and Hispanic baseball players, and this close-knit relationship that was generated through baseball.
“It really was a bond that was created through baseball that really people don’t know anything about. This exhibit will bring that history and that shared legacy to life. There are some fascinating stories.”
The exhibit will run through Sept. 30. To kick things off, former Negro League pitchers Enrique Maroto and Pedro Sierra, who are both from Cuba, will be signing autographs from 1-3 p.m. Saturday at the museum. Maroto played for the legendary Buck O’Neil.
The duo will be joined by Carl Long, Hank Mason George Altman, Gil Carter, Ernie Johnson and Bob Motley. Former major leaguers Diego Segui and Joe Azcue, also both from Cuba, will be on hand, too.
Kendrick hopes the exhibit will appeal to people of all races and bring them to the 18th and Vine district.
“When you think about it,” Kendrick said, “no sport has unified us like baseball.”