Major League Baseball has righted a generations-old wrong this week by elevating the Negro Leagues to MLB status. This inclusion will allow for 3,400 Black players from seven leagues that formed due to segregation and had operated between 1920 and 1948 to receive newfound recognition in a number of ways, elevating their records and placing their histories on par with players from the American and National leagues. It’s a move that the MLB itself calls “long overdue” and that is expected to shake up record books and further acknowledge the legitimacy and skill of the Negro Leagues’ players.
“All of us who love baseball have long known that the Negro Leagues produced many of our game’s best players, innovations and triumphs against a backdrop of injustice,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a press release. “We are now grateful to count the players of the Negro Leagues where they belong: as Major Leaguers within the official historical record.”
Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum said the organization is thrilled to see the MLB recognize the Negro Leagues.
“In the minds of baseball fans worldwide, this serves as historical validation for those who had been shunned from the Major Leagues and had the foresight and courage to create their own league that helped change the game and our country too,” Kendrick said in a statement to DiversityInc. “This acknowledgement is a meritorious nod to the courageous owners and players who helped build this exceptional enterprise and shines a welcomed spotlight on the immense talent that called the Negro Leagues home.”
However, he also told The New York Times that this recognition does not have any bearing on the previous validity of the Negro Leagues. “For those who called the Negro leagues home, they never questioned their own validity,” he told the paper. “They knew that their league was as good as anybody’s league.”
And the stats show it. The statistical evaluations and adjustments have only just begun but will most likely result in a number of changes to the MLB record book, including most notably a new single-season batting average. How many other records may change is still to be determined. The Negro Leagues players only played about 80–100 games per season, as opposed to other major leagues’ 154 so statistics won’t lean in their favor.
In the press release, John Thorn, the official MLB historian explained how the MLB used these looser regulations to exclude the Negro Leagues for years. “The perceived deficiencies of the Negro Leagues’ structure and scheduling were born of MLB’s exclusionary practices and denying them Major League status has been a double penalty,” he said.
In addition to adjustments in league records, certain players will also see significant changes to their statistics as well. For example, Hall of Famer Willie Mays of the New York Giants and Mets in the 1950s also played with the Birmingham Black Barons in 1948. He will be credited with seventeen more hits as a result, bringing his total to 3,300. Adjustments like these will be complete after a review of the available data by the Elias Sports Bureau, which is the keeper of the MLB’s statistics. The biggest challenge in incorporating these statistics comes with the fact that the scattered nature of the Negro Leagues led to somewhat inconsistent record keeping.
The Negro Leagues were formed as early as the late 19th century because of the segregation of the major leagues. The seven Negro Leagues produced 35 Hall of Famers, including players like Mays and Jackie Robinson. Other figures like Josh Gibson and Oscar Charleston made their names entirely in the Negro Leagues. The changes are expected to greatly impact Gibson, who will likely be awarded the single-season batting average record (.441) once the research is complete. His new record would eclipse Hugh Duffy’s, who hit .440 for the Boston Beaneaters in 1894.
Officially classifying other leagues as part of the MLB is not unprecedented, The Times reported. In 1969, a panel of five white men representing the commissioner’s office, the National League, the American League, the Hall of Fame and the Baseball Writers’ Association opted to add four outside organizations to the MLB: the American Association (1882-91), the Union Association (1884), the Players’ League (1890) and the Federal League (1914-15).
The newly announced recognition aligns with the centennial celebration of the Negro Leagues. The MLB press release credits Gary Ashwill, Scott Simkus, Mike Lynch and Kevin Johnson who drove the construction of the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database which contributed to the MLB’s research, as well as Larry Lester, whose decades-long research on the Negro Leagues also contributed.
“I thank Commissioner Manfred for his leadership in making this historic decision and providing this long overdue recognition for the legacy of the Negro Leagues,” Michele Meyer-Shipp, the MLB’s chief people and culture officer said in a statement to DiversityInc. “We are committed to enhancing our efforts to providing an equal playing field for all, and we look forward to a continued partnership with the phenomenal Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and Bob Kendrick.”