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Museum keeps alive memories of Negro League Baseball
KANSAS CITY, Missouri (CNN) -- Enter the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and one thing is apparent: there's a baseball diamond and you can't get on it.
The reason? A cage of chicken wire blocks your path. That wire is strongly symbolic, says museum curator Ray Doswell: "You're not allowed to get on the diamond, just as those players were not allowed access to fame or to playing baseball the way they wanted to."
The Negro Leagues museum was created to remember the often-forgotten stories of legendary athletes who built a baseball league in the midst of segregation.
Founded in 1920 under the guidance of Andrew "Rube" Foster, a former player, manager, and owner for the Chicago American Giants, the league grew to support teams in major U.S. cities.
"You learn what they had to endure to build this enterprise, but you also learn what an incredible enterprise they were able to sculpt out of the hardships of segregation," says Bob Kendrick, the director of marketing at the museum.
So a tour of the museum begins with the symbol of that segregation -- a chicken wire fence.
Before visitors can get on that "field on legends" they learn the stories of ballplayers so talented it makes many wonder what records they would have shattered if they had been allowed in the segregated major leagues any earlier.
Josh Gibson, for example, was called the "Black Babe Ruth," hitting 962 home runs before an early death at 35, three months before Jackie Robinson's major league debut.
The Kansas City Monarchs introduced night baseball five years before the major leagues did. And when Jackie Robinson was signed to the Dodgers and baseball was integrated, it was the Monarchs that he left to move to New York.
The best black players were soon signing contracts with the major leagues, and black fans followed. As a result, the last Negro League teams folded in the early 1960s.
Hank Aaron, the Hall of Famer who shattered Babe Ruth's record by hitting 755 home runs, said the museum, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in January, offers a glimpse at a time many people don't know about.
Aaron, who played a few months as a shortstop with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League, said, "It makes me feel good to walk through there and know that some of the things that Negro League players played for has been preserved, and people can go in there, and look at it."
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
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