Kendrick Hopes To Rescue Negro League Museum
New President Looks To Create Financial Stability
Perhaps it's fitting that, in the same year his dear friend, Negro League ambassador Buck O'Neil, would have turned 100, Bob Kendrick is returning home to what he calls "the house that Buck built."
In March, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum announced that Kendrick, O'Neil's long-time confidant and the museum's former vice president of marketing, has been selected as its new president.
"I believe the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is one of the most important cultural institutions anywhere in the world," Kendrick said. "I'm very honored and excited about the challenge I have taken on here."
Two years ago, Kendrick was the front-runner for the president position but lost out to relative unknown Greg Baker. However, Baker's decision to distance the museum from O'Neil's influence and legacy proved a near-disastrous one, alienating many long-time supporters and causing a huge dip in the institution's financial stability.
As a result, the selection of Kendrick—who served as the museum's marketing director from 1998-2010—was hailed by museum staff and backers as a large step back toward solid fiscal and administrative footing.
"He's going to get a high approval rating just walking through the front door (of the museum)," said Kansas City Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, who has supported the museum for many years. "That's the esteem he's held in."
The museum's financial slump over the last couple years drew heavy criticism from backers, including Sports Illustrated's Joe Posnanksi, who regretfully parted ways with it soon after Baker's ascension.
However, now that Kendrick has been appointed to the job many believe he was born to fill, Posnanski's support is growing again. Still, Posnanski knows Kendrick faces a tall task.
"He knows how hard it will be to make the museum successful again," Posnanski wrote on his SI blog in March. "He knows that the odds are stacked against the museum . . . But . . . he also knows that the odds have always been stacked against the museum. It has always been a challenge to convince people that they should care about a baseball league that died a half century ago, a league of mostly known players from those days before Jackie Robinson stole home."
Still, Kendrick remains optimistic about the museum's prospects. He wants to shore up the facility's corporate sponsorship and use creativity and resourcefulness to come up with ways to attract fans and patrons, both in Kansas City and across the country.
"I will work work very hard to create new opportunities for people to enjoy the museum," Kendrick said. "The challenge is to give people a reason to come back."
Also taxing the museum is the still-lackluster economy, which has potential supporters hesitating to give their backing, especially with so many other options for charitable giving.
"Most not-for-profit organizations have been hurt by the bad economy, and the Negro Leagues museum is certainly not exempt," Kendrick said. "When our partners are hurting, we're hurting."
But with events planned all year long to celebrate what would have been O'Neil's 100th birthday in November, as well as possible celebrations of Negro Leagues home run king Josh Gibson's centennial day, Kendrick feels the museum has an opportunity to lure new patrons and convince one-time backers to return to the fold.
"We have a great institution with a wonderful story to put before as many people as possible," he said. "We want people to be touched by this story."
It's a task those involved with the museum know suits Kendrick perfectly.
"This is Bob's love," Cleaver said. "I don't think Bob would be happy any other place as happy as he is running the Negro Leagues museum."