Justice Is Served

February 3, 2010 11:37 AM

Bad hire threatens Buck's baseball museum

The hiring was a mistake from the start. OK, maybe it wasn't a mistake, because who could have known in December 2008 how Greg Baker would do at the helm of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.


An outsider, Baker was being tasked to guide the museum, a repository of all artifacts, photographs, memorabilia and information about "black baseball," into the future and move the institution forward in the absence of its late chairman and ambassador Buck O'Neil.

It was a job I wouldn't have wanted.

For how does any human replace a personality like Buck O'Neil? Who would you replace him with -- Satchel Paige, perhaps? Of course, Satchel wasn't around to hire, and if he were, not even Satchel would have been up to the job that Buck did so well. 

Only the most optimistic of museum supporters could have thought Baker, whose selection split the executive board that made it, would be up to job either. They weren't asking him to replace the iconic Buck as the museum's face but, rather, as its guiding light. After all, Baker wasn't a baseball man - Negro Leagues or otherwise.

And, even if he were, he would have found using his profile instead of Buck's a misguided choice. Baker had a better chance of being the face of the Yankees or the Red Sox than stepping in and taking over Buck's role at the museum.

No one expected Baker to be Buck's clone. What they did expect was the sort of leadership that would keep alive the history and carry on the initiatives that made the museum a must-visit destination for travelers who found themselves in Kansas City for a few days.

Baker offered no such leadership. During his reign as executive director, he's turned the museum topsy-turvy. He's stripped it of all-things Buck O'Neil; Baker's pushed the brakes hard on the effort to build the Buck O'Neil Education and Research Center at the nearby Paseo YMCA, the place where Rube Foster founded the Negro Leagues in 1920; and he's alienated donors and supporters with his ham-handed approach to shaping the future of the museum.

Now, the institution is in turmoil. It's trying to dig itself out of a $250,000 debt. Some people predict it will be bankrupt before 2010 turns into 2011. Already, local support for the museum at 18th and Vine Streets has dwindled, thanks, in part, to stinging rebukes of Baker in The Kansas City Star. Its articles and commentary have made Baker the butt of jokes and the face of incompetence.

The newspaper articles have gotten Baker publicity aplenty; none of it has been good for the museum.

Last weekend, Baker played host to the museum's signature event: the Legacy Awards. The event honors Major League stars of today with trophies that carry the names and the likenesses of Negro League stars of yesteryear. It's an event that Buck took pride in; it was an event that has drawn stars from inside sports and outside sports. It's a much-talked-about gathering that was the best way to showcase the institution.

But all this year's event brought the museum were questions about Baker and his inept running of the 20-year-old institution. He has created a mess, even though a portion of it has been beyond Baker's control.

How could Baker know that the licensing agreements the museum had for Negro League merchandise would come undone? And how could he know the economy would hit rock bottom?

Baker should have known, however, that distancing the baseball museum from Buck O'Neil served no good purpose. Yet even in death, Buck's presence lords over the institution, and Baker had no excuse for not understanding that fact.

His misjudgment is dismantling the thing Buck loved so much, and for that alone, Baker needs to hand the job of salvaging the museum to somebody else. For the man who's destroying the institution shouldn't now be asked to save it.

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