Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

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Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

1616 E 18th St.
Kansas City, Missouri 64108-1610
Telephone: (816) 221-1920
Fax: (816) 221-8424
Web site:



Billing itself as "the centerpiece of the historical renaissance of Negro Leagues baseball throughout the nation," the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) opened in Kansas City, Missouri, in January 1991. The museum was housed in small quarters in the Lincoln Building in the 18th and Vine Historic District but in the fall of 1997 moved into a new facility nearby. The museum's collection covered the leagues' entire history—from the earliest days of organized baseball after the Civil War through the final days of all-black baseball in the 1960s, preserving the history of the Negro Leagues for both baseball fans and social historians.

In 1998 the NLBM commissioned the Martin Agency, a Richmond, Virginia, ad agency, to create a print campaign. Hal Tench served as creative director for the campaign, with a creative team consisting of art director Christopher Gyorgy, copywriter Chris Jacobs, and print producer Paul Martin. Photographs for the print ads were culled from the museum's archives.


When organized baseball began in the middle of the nineteenth century, whites and blacks played the game together. After the Reconstruction period that followed the Civil War, however, segregation permeated most aspects of American life, including baseball, and by the turn of the century, blacks had been effectively banned from the game. They joined together and formed teams and, eventually, leagues of their own. At a meeting at Kansas City's Paseo YMCA in 1920, Rube Foster, then owner of the all-black Chicago American Giants, founded the Negro National League with other independent black professional organizations. Three years later the Eastern Colored League was formed. Both leagues operated successfully until 1932 when financial difficulties during the Great Depression caused their collapse. A second Negro National League was formed the next season, followed by the Negro American League in 1937. Both thrived until baseball's color barrier was broken when Jackie Robinson, a former Negro Leaguer, joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

The re-integration of baseball was a major civil-rights victory for African Americans, but it spelled doom for the Negro Leagues. Stars such as Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Roy Campanella, and Satchel Paige followed Robinson into the majors and left the Negro Leagues without any marquee players. Other great performers of the Negro Leagues era included Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe, Josh Gibson, Buck O'Neil, Buck Leonard, and James "Cool Papa" Bell.

In its early days the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was short on both space and money. Much of the memorabilia remained in boxes because a lack of display space in the cramped, 2,500-square-foot Lincoln Building facility. The responsibility for the rent was passed each month among the museum's founding members. Eventually enough money was raised to allow the NLBM to move into a larger, state-of-the-art facility.

The museum's opening gallery exhibited uniforms, caps, and other paraphernalia of notable Negro Leagues teams such as the Kansas City Monarchs, the Cuban X-Giants, the Baltimore Elite Giants, and the Indianapolis Clowns. The walls were covered with posters, broadsides, pennants, photos, and other ephemera documenting the excitement of the games and the grind of the barnstorming road shows. A mock locker room featured uniforms and other memorabilia of the dozen Negro Leaguers enshrined in the Hall of Fame at the National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Once established, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum began to actively market itself to the public through special events and promotions. In 1995, to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the Negro Leagues, the museum held a reunion, bringing more than 200 veterans of the Negro Leagues to Kansas City. In 1997 the museum unveiled a new logo commemorating the 50th anniversary of the breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

That same year the Coors Brewing Companybecame the first official sponsor of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Coors and the museum embarked on a three-year partnership to enhance the national exposure opportunities for the museum and to assist in its membership campaign. Program elements included a national Black History Month advertising and merchandising program, support of a Black Entertainment Television (BET) classroom cable program featuring Negro Leagues baseball history, and other fundraising elements to assist with the museum's overall efforts. Another tactic that the NLBM used to promote the story of the Negro Leagues was through the sale of apparel and other merchandise through its own licensing program. These specialty items—sold in the museum's gift shop—proved very successful in drawing people into the mission of the museum. "People can come and buy active wear and historically based items, learn about the history and look good as well," said Raymond Doswell, curator of the NLBM. "But the main focus for us is to really use those items to draw people into the larger story, the larger issue of black entrepreneur-ship, freedom in an oppressive society for African Americans. That's what the story is all about."

The museum relied on cooperative initiatives with educational institutions to promote its mission of raising public awareness of the Negro Leagues. In 1999 the NLBM announced a partnership with Kansas State University's College of Education and the a local school district. Specific projects covered under this joint effort included the creation of websites allowing the museum to connect and interact with students, researchers, and fans worldwide; creation of a book series dealing with the established themes of the museum (leadership, economic self-sufficiency, race relations, and preservation of local cultural heritage); the development of a curriculum series; and the establishment of virtual and traveling museums.


Acquiring materials for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum's collection was both "easy and difficult," according to curator Raymond Doswell. The history of the Negro Leagues was well-chronicled through photographs, and pictures made up a majority of the exhibit. Other memorabilia proved more difficult to collect; much of it was squirreled away in basements or attics and later thrown away. Some items of immense historical value were lost in this fashion, including the last set of uniforms worn by the Kansas City Monarchs. Stored in the basement of the team's former owner, the uniforms were discarded after a flood. The museum expanded its collection through the generosity of the surviving players and the families of others. "A lot of people had things in the basements or attics that their grandfather or great-grandfather had," said the museum's honorary chairman, former Negro Leagues player Buck O'Neil. "We started advertising, and people started looking around and recalling things they had." A number of key artifacts were in the hands of private collectors, many of whom made donations to the museum. Some items were on auction markets, however, and the museum lacked the necessary funds to compete in that area.


Print ads in the 1998 Negro Leagues Baseball Museum campaign appeared in a number of national and local publications, including the Missourian, Chicago magazine, the Sporting News, and Baseball America. The campaign was targeted toward adult baseball enthusiasts and presented the NLBM as a potential vacation destination. Special emphasis was placed on the African-American community, with ads placed in such prominent black publications as Jet, Ebony, and Vibe. The aim was to fulfill the museum's continuing mission to raise awareness of the contributions blacks made to America's national pastime—even before the days of integrated baseball. Don Motley, the museum's executive director, explained the need to target this audience during a 1998 interview: "A few months ago, a group of black high school kids visited our museum, and I asked them who was the first black ballplayer in the major leagues. They said Babe Ruth! So do you see why our facility is necessary?"


The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was one of many baseball museums across the United States and Canada. Many of these institutions appealed to visitors on a regional basis; for example, the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame commemorated the heritage of baseball in the state of Indiana. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was one of two baseball museums that attempted to serve a more national or societal educational mission. The other was the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Established in 1935 by Major League Baseball, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum sought to honor the game's great players, owners, managers, umpires, and innovators—including Negro Leaguers. Like the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum collected, through donation, baseball artifacts, works of art, literature, photographs, memorabilia, and related materials that focused on the history of the game and its players.


The Martin Agency agreed to create the 1998 Negro Leagues Baseball Museum print campaign on a pro bono basis owing to the lack of funds available to the nonprofit museum. The project captured the look and feel of filmmaker Ken Burns's 1994 PBS documentary Baseball. The deliberate echo of Burns' style was no coincidence; Burns served on the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum's board.

The Martin Agency produced three full-page newspaper ads and a television spot for the campaign. Burns granted the Martin Agency permission to use a rendition of "Take Me Out To the Ball Game" from the Baseball soundtrack. Many of the same rare photographs and film footage Burns used of Gibson, Paige, and other Negro League stars from the 1920s and 1930s also were employed. "We knew we didn't have the money for new photography, so that was out of the question," Gyorgy said. "But it really wasn't needed, as there was a wealth of existing photos to draw from. This is a real piece of Americana."

In developing the print campaign, Gyorgy and Jacobs drew on their own sense of wonder upon discovering the depth of the subject. "[The museum] provides a wonderful glimpse of how the leagues provided something for the communities to rally around," Gyorgy said. "Since little is known about Negro Leagues baseball our ads feature a lot of copy and are designed to educate people about the importance of the leagues and the impressive caliber of the players."

The print portion of the campaign consisted of mock newspaper ads and three fundraising posters. The copy pointed out that the quality of play in the Negro Leagues was as good, maybe better, than that of Major League Baseball during the time the sport was segregated. One headline read: "Just Because They Weren't in the Same League as Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, Doesn't Mean They Weren't in the Same League as Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb." Another, highlighting great long-ball hitters, asserted: "420 Feet is 420 Feet, No Matter What the Color of Your Skin Is." A third mock newspaper ad posed the question "Was Josh Gibson the Black Babe Ruth?" with the subhead reading, "Or Was Babe Ruth the White Josh Gibson?" "The campaign really captures the essence of what we are about an what we are working to achieve," Doswell said.


For 1998 the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum saw attendance increase by 12 percent. Its membership rolls also received a boost from the ad campaign, swelling by 15 percent for the year. Merchandise sales remained brisk, with preliminary figures indicating an increase over the previous year, according to official museum figures.

The campaign captured numerous awards. At the annual Richmond Show, a production of the Advertising Club of Richmond, the Martin Agency snared six golds, including four from its work for the NLBM. The agency also scored significant wins at the annual Art Director's Club of New York awards. The NLBM campaign was awarded the prize for Distinctive Merit in the category of advertising posters and billboards, public service or nonprofit/educational. The campaign also received an award in the category of newspaper, public service/nonprofit, full page or spread.


Giancaterino, Randy (with Paul Debono and Barbara Gregorich). "A Pitch for Black History." American Visions, June-July 1993, p. 22.

Gutierrez, Paul. "Up to Date in Kansas City." Sports Illustrated, January 12, 1998, p. 101.

Ratliff, Tamara. "A League of Their Own." Nashville Commercial Appeal, June 10, 1994.

Rayner, Bob. "Martin Agency Sparkles At Bash: Big Not Always Best At Annual Richmond Awards Presentation." Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 28, 1998.

                                      Robert Schnakenberg