Negro Leagues Museum in financial straits
Deficit reflects dwindling donations in struggling economy
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., is currently facing financial troubles, and though it's not predicted to lead to an imminent demise, the problem reportedly needs a resolution -- fast.
A report by The Associated Press late Saturday night stated that the current recession has hurt important donations to the museum, and after posting its first loss -- of about $30,000 -- two years ago, the museum is looking at losing almost a quarter-million dollars when the final accounting for 2009 is complete.
Most of the revenue loss traces back to a drop in licensing revenue, according to the AP's report. And considering the museum is relatively small and depends largely on outside donations, a loss of close to $250,000 would be sizeable.
"For museums all over the county, dollars are becoming hard to find," the museum's executive director Greg Baker told the AP. "We are challenged by that. We've got to raise money to keep going, and if we don't, we'll end up closing our doors."
The museum is the only exhibit in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to the contributions of blacks in baseball. It was opened 20 years ago by the late Buck O'Neil, a two-time Negro Leagues batting champion and longtime manager of the Kansas City Monarchs, who died in October 2006 at age 94.
That's another problem the Museum is facing, according to the AP, which wrote that O'Neil's death "robbed the museum of its eloquent goodwill ambassador, and almost immediately, controversy and infighting set in among management."
The AP reported that Baker, who took over his current post a little more than a year ago, has decided to "back away" from the Museum's strong connection to O'Neil. Plans to move the museum to the old YMCA building down the street and build the Buck O'Neil Education and Research Center have been put on hold despite a $1 million donation for that purpose by Julia Irene Kauffman, daughter of the late founder of the Royals, according to the AP.
O'Neil's voice has also been removed from the Museum's telephone greeting, and what has angered many people the most, according to the AP, was the decision to de-emphasize O'Neil's annual birthday celebration in November -- an all-day party that used to draw as many as 500 people to the Museum. Last year, a fraction of that amount showed up, and the event was not used as a fundraiser, the AP added.
Baker, however, insisted to the AP that he doesn't intend to forget O'Neil's influence, and is just trying to widen the museum's circle of friends. According to the AP, Baker has involved the families of other Negro League stars in Museum activities -- one example being Sean Gibson, the great-grandson of Hall of Famer Josh Gibson and the head of the Josh Gibson Foundation in Pittsburgh. Gibson presented a plaque at the museum's annual Legacy Awards dinner on Saturday night.
"When you lose somebody like [O'Neil], it takes a little time to bounce back," Baker told the AP. "I think they will eventually see this is a really, really good strategy to help keep this Museum moving and advancing. If you love Buck, how can you separate the museum from Buck? I'm not Buck O'Neil. There was only one Buck O'Neil."
The museum is currently celebrating its 20th year. The Museum also launched a year-long celebration in an effort to strengthen its standing as an important tourist attraction and cultural institution.
Major League Baseball supports the museum, and each year, its clubs play games wearing replicas of Negro League uniforms.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.