Justice Is Served

February 8, 2010 10:36 PM

Buck's friend quits Negro Leagues museum

A good man quit a job that desperately needed him.

Bob Kendrick, marketing director of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, stepped aside Monday to, as he put it, pursue an opportunity elsewhere in Kansas City.

Kendrick is leaving a position he enjoyed. He is accepting a challenge that might be as fulfilling. But to say that with certainty is to predict the future, and only God does that well.

What I can predict is that the museum will miss Bob Kendrick. The museum will miss his enlightened leadership and his passion for preserving the history of the black men who played baseball during segregation. It will miss the outreach efforts Kendrick carried on in the aftermath of Buck O'Neil's death.

For in many ways, Kendrick was as instrumental to the museum as Buck was. Now, that might amount to heresy in some people's minds. I understand their thinking, too. Buck O'Neil was an irreplaceable figure, a blood-and-guts link to the iconic figures whose stories are chronicled inside the institution on 18th and Vine. Buck was those men's voices.

His death threatened to mute those voices, because no one could do what Buck did. It would be a fool's project for anybody to try. Bob Kendrick is no man's fool.

He knew what Buck meant to the museum, and Kendrick made it his mission to retell those colorful stories that Buck had always recounted. Those stories found a new voice for their telling through Kendrick.

But Buck's death left a hole that not even Kendrick could fill. Unlike Buck, Kendrick couldn't be the face of black baseball. His stories could only be secondhand accounts, which threaten their veracity.

Not that Kendrick would stretch the truth. His background is as a journalist and not in black baseball. Most journalists I know look at the truth as sacrosanct. They'd be more inclined to say nothing than to say something they knew wasn't true. They buy into the self-policed code of professional conduct that journalism espouses.

Professionalism is a word that fits Kendrick like an Armani suit. He's avoided the political infighting and the pettiness that have occurred inside the museum's corridors since Buck's death on Oct. 6, 2006. An optimist, Kendrick has stayed above the fray.

He's carried on Buck's work, preaching a gospel that was always dear to the man Kendrick calls his best friend. In some ways, he has looked at what he's done at the museum as a repayment for the sage counsel Buck had always given him.

Kendrick had always thought that preserving that institution was the best way he knew of to acknowledge what Buck was in his life. To just say "thank you" didn't seem quite enough, particularly when the man who needed to hear those two words wasn't around anymore - not in the flesh.

His spirit remains, embodied in the hard work and in the passion and in the commitment that marked Kendrick's role. He enjoyed that work, and it wasn't easy to let go of it.

I'm guessing that every man's life comes to a crossroads, and Kendrick's life did. The museum that Buck built is in transition or, more to the point, in crisis. The men above Kendrick in the pecking order, men who don't appreciate Buck's legacy, have steered a course that dooms the museum to bankruptcy or, even worse, to irrelevancy.

They have lessened Buck's presence inside and outside the museum; they have walked away from an educational initiative that was dear to Buck; and they are taking the museum in a direction that can only ruin it. The museum is no longer a place to relive the history of black baseball; it's a place where a comedy club might feel at home.

But the museum's problems aren't Kendrick's now. He doesn't want to say he's turned his back on the place; he hasn't, not really. He can't, because the museum has been a part of him for more years than he wants to count. They were good years - great years, in fact, when Buck lorded over the scene.

All that Buck was has all but vanished, and Kendrick, the last strong tie to him, is leaving as well. He's taken another job in Kansas City; he'll use his connections to strengthen that institution.

Yet a big piece of Bob Kendrick will remain forever inside the museum. The place will always house memories that he cherishes. For Kendrick, it was simply time to move on, to move on instead of watching the men who now run the museum dismantle, brick by brick, what Buck had built.

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