June 20, 2021

"The Negro Leagues Are Major Leagues"

Everything that divides men, everything that specified, separates, or pens them, is a sin against humanity.
José Martí (1853-1895), revolutionary Cuban writer, philosopher, political theorist

The known statistics from seven Black baseball leagues, recognized as "major leagues" by MLB in December 2020, have been incorporated into Baseball-Reference. Research on these leagues is on-going.

While Baseball-Reference has no box scores (yet), Retrosheet does – for 505 Negro League games (209 of which have play-by-play). Those box scores include 35 All-Star games (play-by-play for 28), 210 Negro League playoff games (play-by-play for 91), and 249 interracial games played between 1925-1948 (play-by-play for 79).

The seven new major leagues:

Negro National League I   (1920-1931)
Eastern Colored League    (1923-1928)
American Negro League     (1929)
East-West League          (1932)
Negro Southern League     (1932)
Negro National League II  (1933-1948)
Negro American League     (1937-1948)

Baseball-Reference (my emphasis):

The Negro Leagues data is not complete. While the quality of play in the Negro Leagues was on a major league level, the wages, travel, playing conditions, press coverage, and record-keeping were more varied, primarily due to systemic racism. Additionally, Negro League teams played a shorter regular season schedule, but with an extensive amount of exhibitions and barnstorming games that made for seasons that often approached 200 or more games in total. These contests were not part of their league schedule and are therefore not included in this database. . . .

It's also important to remember that the history of Black Baseball does not start in 1920 or end in 1948 and even from 1920-1948 our presentation is incomplete. There were hundreds of teams and thousands of players that make up a more complete and richer history of Black Baseball than we are able to present here, and from 1920-1948 there were many star players and teams that found it more feasible to play only a barnstorming schedule (not just in the United States and also the Caribbean, Mexico, and Venezuela) rather than participate in leagues. These independent teams were often the equal of teams we are including as major league teams on the site now. Our complete register of baseball history contains a significant record of Independent and non-major Negro Leagues. . . .

Rest assured that research is still ongoing, and we'll continue to publish updates as more information becomes available. As you return to the site in the future, you should expect significant changes and improvements in our coverage of the Negro Leagues as more research is done and more statistics are compiled.

Todd Peterson notes:

The term Negro Leagues is used to describe a series of professional baseball organizations composed of African American and Latin American players that operated in the United States between 1920 and 1962. The designation is also applied to the many professional Black clubs that operated before the onset of league play or operated outside of their jurisdiction. The leagues themselves existed because, from 1899 until 1946, Black players were banned from "Organized Baseball," because of the color of their skin.

At the press conference for The Negro Leagues Are Major Leagues, Sean Forman, the president of Sports Reference LLC and creator of Baseball-Reference.com, spoke (my emphasis):

We have had Negro League baseball stats on Baseball Reference for at least ten years now, but we treated them as less than the statistics of the White major leagues. We will now treat them as the major leagues they are.

Our decision to fix this omission is just a tiny part of the story. The main story here is the work of hundreds of researchers, activists, players, and families who did the research, made their arguments, and would not let the memories of these players and leagues fade away. . . .

The new data we are presenting is groundbreaking in its scope, but it is not complete. This may cause some concern, but I view the situation as similar to what in 1958, we would have known about the Federal League or the American Association. In our office, we have hundreds of statistics books for White major leagues, some published as far back as the late 1800s. Even with that head start, it was only through a massive undertaking in the late 1960s (costing what would be millions of dollars today) that the original Baseball Encyclopedia was published. And even now fifty years later, we are still uncovering and updating changes to the data for the American and National Leagues. The statistics for the Negro Leagues have not seen the same level of investment. As I said at the start, we will no longer treat the Negro Leagues as less than, but we must acknowledge they are different. The economic and societal disadvantages for these leagues were substantial and a different system was created in response to these challenges. We must accept and account for these differences as we do this work. We hope that our publication of these stats will spark more research. As this research is done, the accuracy and completeness of what we present on the site will only increase. . . .

The statistics you see on our site will change as new information is discovered. Career numbers will fluctuate, home run and win totals will be added to. Wins Above Replacement numbers will change as park factors are improved. Player records may be merged or split, and new players will be discovered. Just as the statistical history of the White major leagues was built upon the contributions of hundreds of people, hundreds more will take part in continuing to build the statistical history of the Black major leagues.

Baseball-Reference has also posted several articles from "prominent Negro League historians, family members of Black baseball players, and others to explain . . . the context behind the rise of Black baseball, how it operated, who was involved and its part in the history of the game".

There will also be a podcast featuring "topics such as the preservation of Negro Leagues history, women playing pivotal roles in the success of Black baseball, and how the Negro Leagues changed baseball culture".

A portion of "Some Noteworthy Occurrences", from Larry Lester:

  • No longer will New York Yankees pitcher Don Larsen be credited with the only World Series no-hitter (a perfect game in 1956 against the Brooklyn Dodgers). Thirty years earlier, in 1926, Claude "Red" Grier for the Bacharach (NJ) Giants hurled a no-no against the Chicago American Giants, and in the process became the first major league pitcher to throw a World Series no-hitter.

  • And speaking of no-hitters, in 1927 Joe Strong of the Baltimore Black Sox lived up to his last name and pitched the longest no-hitter in major league history with an 11 inning, 2-1 victory over the Hilldale Club. . . .

  • Depending on the definition of independent league play by MLB, the new record books could show that Herbert "Rap" Dixon of the Baltimore Black Sox chain-smoked 14 consecutive hits in 1929. That is two more than the old major league record shared by three players: Johnny Kling of the 1902 Chicago Cubs, Pinky Higgins of the 1938 Boston Red Sox, and Walt Dropo of the 1952 Detroit Tigers.

  • In 1941, catcher Frank Duncan, Sr. and pitcher Frank Duncan, Jr. of the Kansas City Monarchs become the first father and son—and the first father-and-son battery—to play for the same team in the same season. This is 50 years before the Ken Griffeys made ancestral history with the Seattle Mariners.

  • In 1943, Al Gipson, pitching for the Birmingham Black Barons, struck out 20 Philadelphia Stars in nine innings. In the process, he joins aces Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals, Kerry Wood (Chicago Cubs) and Roger Clemens (Boston Red Sox, twice) in the record books.

  • At some point in our conversations, we will agree that Leon Day of the Newark Eagles pitched an Opening Day no-hitter in 1946, just like Bob Feller of [Cleveland] did in 1940.

  • According to the NL's official stat keeper, Howe News Bureau, Artie Wilson of the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League batted .402 in 1948, making the slap hitter the last major leaguer to hit over .400.
Many of the All-Time leaderboards have a different look.

For example, Hall of Famer Oscar Charleston played professional baseball for 27 seasons, including 18 in the major leagues. He is now #2 in career batting average, #5 in career on-base percentage, #6 in career slugging percentage, and #4 in career OPS (behind only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Lou Gehrig). Charleston also did a little pitching – more than Williams, but not as much as Ruth!

1 comment:

laura k said...

Fantastic. I can't wait to read about this in more depth.