06/06/08 7:52 PM ET
Rush's Lee makes big donation
Rocker gives autographed balls to Negro Leagues Museum
By Mark Dent / MLB.com
Bob Kendrick stated the obvious about what seemed like a strange situation.
"It probably surprised a lot of folks that a white, Canadian rock star would have this wonderful collection of Negro Leagues stuff to make available to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum," said Kendrick, director of marketing for the museum.
Geddy Lee of the group Rush is that Canadian rocker. He formally donated his collection of autographed baseballs to the Negro Leagues Museum on Friday.
"To me," Kendrick said, "it means even more because of where it's coming from. If Geddy can come here and do this, then other people are going to think, 'I can come here.'"
Lee's a self-professed baseball lover, and has been since he was a kid. As his fame in the music world grew, Rush could start collecting baseball memorabilia. During the past 20 years, he's bought his fair share of balls. His favorite is one that's autographed by Christy Mathewson. He also has one that John F. Kennedy threw out for the first pitch of the 1961 baseball season.
About a year ago, on that same Field of Legends, Lee got the motivation to start a greater collection. He saw the statues of Satchel Paige and Cool Papa Bell. He read all the exhibits about the teams and the stories about the players' lives.
"I was just so impressed and so emotional about the stories this museum tells," Lee said, "and it just stayed with me. I thought so many baseball fans around the country had no idea how incredible this place was."
Soon after his visit, he learned that a collection of autographed baseballs from Negro Leagues players was available. He purchased them immediately with the intent of donating them to the museum.
Kendrick got the phone call from Lee a few weeks ago. He and curator Ray Doswell couldn't believe the size of the collection and some of the names. Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Josh Gibson are among the autographs, along with lesser-known players like Ike Brown.
"It's a great problem to have," Kendrick said. "It challenges us to tell some new stories and more obscure ones."
They still aren't sure how they're going to give all the baseballs a proper display.
They'll decide that later. Now, Kendrick is hoping that this will bring a larger and different audience, one that can learn the true story of the Negro Leagues just like Lee did.
"When you think about how individuals were unfairly portrayed as tramps, vagabonds and drifters," Kendrick said about Negro League players, "it gives us a chance to develop the truth in place of those stereotypes. These were great men and women."
Mark Dent is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.