The idea surfaced initially out of necessity, as Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick saw interest in his winter fundraiser dwindling. He had hoped to rejuvenate public attention to the Negro Leagues, while replenishing the financial account of a non-profit organization intent on prolonging its community outreach programs.
Five years later, his solution is flourishing.
Kendrick unveiled Tuesday the class for the museum’s fifth annual Hall of Game. The inductees will be Dick Allen, Eddie Murray, Kenny Lofton, Jim Grant and J.R. Richard. They are all scheduled to attend the ceremony on June 9 at the Gem Theater.
The summer event — which replaced the former Legacy Awards ceremony that took place each winter — is nearing $1 million in total fund-raising, Kendrick said. It honors former baseball players who exuded “the spirit of the way the game was played in the Negro Leagues,” Kendrick said.
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“That’s what we wanted to convey with this celebration — pay homage to the Negro Leagues by honoring major leaguers who played the game with the same pizazz, the dazzle, the sizzle,” Kendrick said. “That’s all Negro Leagues.”
The museum still presents its annual legacy awards to current MLB players in the namesakes of former Negro Leagues players, but rather than hosting a winter ceremony that many of them could not fit into their schedules, they present them the awards during their visits to Kauffman Stadium. The shrinking number of player appearances led to the cancellation of the ceremony after 10 years.
Part of the requirements of the inductees into the Hall of Game is their attendance, with players from the initial four classes including Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield, Tony Perez, Ozzie Smith and Lou Brock, among others.
“This event is critical for us. It helps us do the educational programs and the community outreach programs that we do to serve primarily a community that is not affluent,” Kendrick said. “There are always demands on the museum for discounted admission (and) free admission, so the more money we generate, the greater impact we can have on the lives of many of those young people who come see us.”
The 2018 ceremony will also present a Jackie Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award to Robinson’s daughter, Sharon. She serves as an educational consultant for MLB and also manages an educational curriculum designed to empower young students encountering adversity.
Sharon Robinson plans to be in attendance on June 9 to receive the award, Kendrick said.
“It was very emotional when I called Sharon to share the news. It took her breath away,” Kendrick said. “It was one of those moments that I’ll hold near and dear to me — to be able to (share) that news with her.”
All five players in the 2018 Hall of Game class were MLB All-Stars. Murray was an eight-time all-star and first-ballot MLB Hall of Fame inductee. He topped 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, spending time with the Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Cleveland and Anaheim.
Allen was named the 1972 American League most valuable player with the Chicago White Sox. Lofton, who played for eight teams, won four Gold Gloves and led his league in stolen bases five times. Grant, nicknamed “Mudcat,” was the first African American pitcher to win 20 games for an American League team and the first African American to win a World Series game for an AL team. Richard twice led the National League in strikeouts.