We can try to avoid making choices by doing nothing, but even that is a decision.
– Gary Collins
Volume 73 | Issue 6
November 2005

Faces of the City

Kathlyn Von Rohr

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Shuttlecocks

by Kathlyn Von Rohr

Walking around the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City tourists can understandably feel rather insignificant in their surroundings. It is the same sense of wonder tourists might feel first witnessing the Statue of Liberty, Sears Tower, or vast Pacific Ocean. However, these patrons look like they interrupted a badminton game between Paul Bunyan and a King Kong. What’s the evidence of such a large-scaled game? Giant shuttlecocks scattered about the lawn.

The sheer size of the four shuttlecock sculptures on the Nelson-Atkins Museum’s front lawn boggles the mind. The shuttlecocks stand 17'11" each in the air. This means it would take three 6-foot-tall adults sitting on each other’s shoulders to reach the top. Sporting the cone shape of average-sized shuttlecocks or “birdies,” the widest sections of each cone are 15'1" in diameter, with narrower 4' diameters at the noses. That’s enormous considering the largest diameters equal the distance from a free throw line to a basketball net.

These massive structures took shape in the early 1990s and finally came to their resting place on the surrounding Nelson-Atkins Museum in 1994. The shuttlecocks were conceived and created by two international artists who design to impress on a large scale, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. During the course of their partnership, the parents of these magnificent sculptures have worked on more than 40 large-scale projects featured in indoor and outdoor settings all over the world.

Oldenburg and van Bruggen pride themselves on turning ordinary objects into majestic sculptures that blur the lines between architectural mastery and artistic endeavor. The Nelson-Atkins Museum’s shuttlecocks exemplify this goal. After being commissioned to design the museum’s first outdoor sculpture, Oldenburg and van Bruggen conceived the idea of shuttlecocks while spying the vast green grounds that surround the museum. They envisioned the grounds as the badminton court and the actual museum as the badminton net. All that was missing was the game itself, so they designed the four aluminum and fiber-reinforced plastic shuttlecocks that stand on the grounds today. Not surprisingly, these shuttlecocks are the largest in the world. Since 1994, they have stood as a source of pride for Kansas City, Mo., museum patrons.


Faces of the City

Satchel Paige

by Kathlyn Von Rohr

Today baseball fans dismiss a 40-year-old pitcher as ancient, but Satchel Paige still graced the Kansas City Athletics mound when he was nearing 60. Toward the end of his career, reporters continually asked his age, and he charismatically replied with quotes like: “Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

Historians estimate Leroy “Satchel” Paige was born on July 7, 1906 in the slums of Mobile, Ala. No one knows his exact birth date because Paige remained so secretive about his age, partially because he estimated his birth date himself. As the seventh of 12 children, even his parents were not exactly certain. At one point his mother, Lula Coleman Page, told a sportswriter Paige was actually three years older than he thought, then she amended that estimate a few years later and said he was only two years older.

It has been said this mystery surrounding his age perfectly defines the mystery of his character. Even his nickname seems mysterious though it is actually a product of his childhood job. Paige carried bags and satchels for railroad passengers, hence the nickname “Satchel.”

Paige began his five-decade baseball career at age 24 when he tried out for a semi-pro team called the Mobile Tigers. Later a friend from Mobile and player/manager for the Chattanooga Black Lookouts, Alex Herman scouted and signed Paige to play in the Negro Southern League. His mother only allowed him to play after she was a promised a portion of his $50-per-month salary.

From there, Paige went on to play for various ball clubs including the Birmingham Black Barons, the Baltimore Black Sox, Chicago American Giants, the Crawford Colored Giants, El Paso Mexicans, just to name a few. Paige moved through teams quickly, especially when owners rented him out to various teams to sell out stadiums. After being snubbed by many U.S. teams for various reasons (including his Southern background), Paige played in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba. Paige got his big break back in the states with the Kansas City “Travelers,” a division of the Monarchs. Owner, J.L. Wilkinson built the team around Paige. During that era, Paige also divided his spare time between his All-Star team and various National Negro League teams, including the New York Black Yankees. In the off seasons, he played in the warmer climate of Puerto Rico to stay in shape. By World War II, when Paige played celebrity games to sell war bonds, he was easily the highest paid athlete in the world making $40,000 a year. Not only that, but he was the first black player to play in formerly known as purely Caucasian baseball stadiums. But for him, it wasn’t enough. He still wasn’t a major leaguer.

Paige finally got his chance during the 1948 World Series when the Cleveland Indians were in desperate need of a decent pitcher. Already in his 40s and past the age when most baseball players retire, Paige auditioned for Cleveland team manager Bill Veeck. Veeck dropped a cigarette on the ground and told Paige to throw over it as if the cigarette was home base. Paige pitched four out of five fast balls right over his miniscule target. Veeck was sufficiently impressed and signed Paige, who helped the Indians win the pennant that year. Later he finished off his major league career by playing for the St. Louis Browns, where he was hired once more by Veeck.

Paige found his home in Kansas City, Mo., where he was hired for one game at supposed age 59. He settled in Kansas City where he served as pitching coach for the Atlanta Braves (or really a consultant because he offered pitching advice from his Kansas City home), sheriff, ran for office (and lost), served as the technical advisor for a television movie about his life, and was inducted as the first Negro League player ever into the Hall of Fame in 1971. He died in 1982 in Kansas City, a month before his supposed 76th birthday.

While not born in Kansas City, Leroy “Satchel” Paige definitely left his mark on the city. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum honor Paige with his statue, which anyone can visit and remember “the greatest pitcher in the history of the Negro Leagues.”