Still an ambassador of the game at 82 years old, Minnie Minoso receives his Jackie Robinson Legacy Award for Lifetime Achievement. (G. Newman Lowrance/MLB.com)
KANSAS CITY — It almost seemed as if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts had trucked its Oscars to the heartlands.
From actor/comedian Robert Wuhl, actor Hosea Chanchez, actress Drew Sidora to contemporary artists LAX Boyz and After 7, the stars shined on Saturday night. They helped draw people to The Gem Theater not to honor Tinseltown, but to spotlight baseball at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s eighth annual Legacy Awards.
“We are all like proud papas, as it relates to this event,” said Bob Kendrick, marketing director at the museum. “We’ve nurtured this thing from its infancy to the point that it’s become one of the best offseason baseball events.
“Each year brings new rewards.”
For year No. 8, the new reward was getting two of the game’s brightest young stars here. In Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder and Indians left-hander C.C. Sabathia, the museum was able to honor, in person, two players who have embraced the history and heritage of “black baseball.”
Fielder won the Josh Gibson Legacy Award for leading the National League in home runs, and Sabathia won the Bullet Rogan Legacy Award as the best pitcher in the American League.
But the event celebrated more than just young stars. Ballplayers from yesteryear were as much a part of the night’s celebration as Fielder and Sabathia were.
One of those ballplayers from baseball’s past was Minnie Minoso, who received the Jackie Robinson Legacy Award for Lifetime Achievement. As one of the few surviving stars from the Negro League, Minoso bridged the gap between segregated baseball and integration.
Even now, in the twilight of his life, the 82-year-old Minoso remains a revered ambassador for the game.
In what might be compared to the “Oscar for Best Actor,” the museum bestowed its most prestigious award on Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins and Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriquez.
Rollins and Rodriguez picked up the Oscar Charleston Legacy as the most valuable player last season in their respective leagues. Neither man, however, was able to attend the show.
But this winter’s celebration of baseball had other stars who came out to ensure the continued growth of this tribute to Major League Baseball. The event brought Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of baseball operations, to The Gem.
Solomon, the highest-ranking black man in baseball, received the Pop Lloyd Legacy Award for Community Leadership.
Others recipients of Legacy Awards, the museum’s version of Oscars, were:
• Batting champions (Buck Leonard): Matt Holliday, Colorado Rockies; Magglio Ordonez, Detroit Tigers
• Homer run leaders: (Josh Gibson): Fielder; Rodriguez
• Pitcher of the Year: Sabathia; Jake Peavy, San Diego Padres
• Stolen-base leaders (“Cool Papa” Bell): Jose Reyes, New York Mets; Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
• Rookies of the Year (Larry Doby): Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies; Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
• Relievers of the Year (Hilton Smith): Jose Valverde, Arizona Diamondbacks; Joe Borowski, Indians
• Managers of the Year (C.I. Taylor): Bob Melvin, Arizona Diamondbacks; Eric Wedge, Indians
• Executives of the Year (Rube Foster): general manager Dan O’Dowd, Colorado Rockies; general manager Mark Shapiro, Indians
• Writer of the Year (Sam Lacy): Larry Whiteside of The Boston Globe (posthumously)
• Outstanding Support of the NLBM (Buck O’Neil): Spence Heddens, Kansas City market president at Bank of America; Jim Kenney, agency field executive with State Farm Insurance Companies
Overall, it was a good night for pomp under great circumstances. “It’s a wonderful celebration of baseball,” said Wuhl, the master of ceremonies for the second year in a row.
“Eight years now of Legacy Awards … and counting,” Kendrick said.
“But there was a time when I didn’t think this thing would survive because we couldn’t get the honorees to come out,” he said. “So each year becomes increasingly rewarding.