December 19, 2020

Official Major League Records Will Include 29 Seasons Of Negro League Stats (1920-48)

Major League Baseball announced last Wednesday that it was "correcting a longtime oversight in the game's history" by designating seven distinct Negro Leagues from 1920-1948 as "major leagues".

This monumental decision, encompassing approximately 3,400 players from seven distinct leagues, comes after decades of research and years of discussion and will cause a significant rewriting of the game's record book. There will be dramatic changes to the Top Ten leaders in career batting average and slugging percentage. And Ted Williams will no longer be the last major leaguer to bat .400 in a season. The 1948 cut-off also means the three women who played for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1953 and 1954 — Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, Connie Morgan, and Toni Stone — are not major leaguers.

MLB put its foot in its mouth in its press release, first by stating that it would be "elevating" the Negro Leagues . . . up to the lofty perch enjoyed by the once white-only major leagues. That poor choice of words prompted several journalists to react with some variation of: "Oh, so now they're good?" One also wondered: "Are they doling out back pay?") Another cringe-worthy word was "oversight", as though the major leagues had made an honest mistake in its relationship with Black players. 

It's more proof (not that any additional evidence was needed) that if Rob Manfred is involved, nothing can go completely smoothly. A large dose of cynicism is essential when considering anything MLB does (see the self-congratulatory aspects of each April's "Jackie Robinson Day"), but this is also an important statement.


Commissioner of Baseball Robert D. Manfred, Jr. announced today that Major League Baseball is correcting a longtime oversight in the game's history by officially elevating the Negro Leagues to "Major League" status. . . . Accordingly, the statistics and records of these players will become a part of Major League Baseball's history. . . .

MLB commends the work of Gary Ashwill, Scott Simkus, Mike Lynch, and Kevin Johnson, who drove the construction of the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database, and Larry Lester, whose decades-long research underlies and adds to their work. MLB credits all of the baseball research community for discovering additional facts, statistics, and context that exceed the criteria used by the Special Committee on Baseball Records in 1969 to identify six "Major Leagues" since 1876. It is MLB's view that the Committee's 1969 omission of the Negro Leagues from consideration was clearly an error that demands today's designation. . . .

John Thorn, the Official Historian of Major League Baseball, said: "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 . . . Granting MLB status to the Negro Leagues a century after their founding is profoundly gratifying."

Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, said: . . . "In the minds of baseball fans worldwide, this serves as historical validation for those who had been shunned from the Major Leagues . . . 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." . . .

MLB and the Elias Sports Bureau have begun a review process to determine the full scope of this designation's ramifications on statistics and records. MLB and Elias will work with historians and other experts in the field to evaluate the relevant issues and reach conclusions upon the completion of that process. . . .

The seven leagues that comprised the Negro Leagues of 1920-1948 were the Negro National League (I) (1920–1931); the Eastern Colored League (1923–1928); the American Negro League (1929); the East-West League (1932); the Negro Southern League (1932); the Negro National League (II) (1933–1948); and the Negro American League (1937–1948).

Those seven leagues have produced 35 Hall of Famers, including Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Josh Gibson (below), and Oscar Charleston. 

Sean Gibson, the great-grandson of Josh Gibson:

I can tell you that the reaction of the Gibson family was joyous. We thought Christmas had come early. And that feeling is shared by the families of other Negro Leaguers I know. We were gratified and felt that our fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and in my case, great-grandfather, were validated. Not that they were not already in our own eyes. But for those with little or no knowledge of the Negro Leagues and the era in which they took place, the story must be told.

Gibson is also the Executive Director of the Josh Gibson Foundation, which has called for renaming the Most Valuable Player awards after Gibson (a worthy choice) rather than baseball's first commissioner, the racist Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Gibson also notes that in 1971, when Satchel Paige was inducted into the Hall of Fame as the first player with a career spent mostly in the Negro Leagues, there was discussion of placing his plaque in a separate (but equal?) wing. 

Gibson admits not fully understanding

why MLB drew the line at 1948. Although we understand that 1948 marks the first full year of integration, it took many years for all Major League teams to fully integrate, depriving many Negro Leaguers worthy of the majors to remain in the dwindling Negro Leagues that were drawing fewer fans and therefore paying lower salaries to players. Their games, their stats are still relevant . . .

Some may lament that revised statistical tables will remove some iconic players from Top 10 lists. No one envies the work of MLB to get this right, but get it right it must. . . . This is not about cancel culture, it is about fully embracing the complete fabric of our culture. The woven cloth is stronger because of all its threads, not just a few.

Howard Bryant (ESPN) writes that MLB's reference to "correcting an oversight" is "stunningly offensive" and explains how MLB's decision will actually aid in covering up the sport's decades of intentional racist policies and behaviour.

It was a deliberate system. The major leagues destroyed a half-century of Black baseball history, and baseball history in general, with one unrelenting purpose in mind: to do their part in reinforcing Black inferiority to the rest of the country. 

It is a playbook still employed today. The Negro Leagues served baseball well for decades. The players, fans and owners were used the way some politicians and their operatives use Black people today: to create fear of integration, fear of Black people among whites. The backbone of maintaining segregation was the belief that allowing Black players into the game would ruin the integrity of the sport -- no different from the belief that allowing Black people into the suburbs would ruin the suburbs. . . .

Even the name, "Organized Baseball" — how baseball referred to itself before its incorporation as Major League Baseball — tacitly ridiculed Black players, who if not under the umbrella of organized ball must be disorganized, corrupt, illegitimate. . . .

It cannot be forgotten that baseball spent a half-century undermining the credibility of the Negro Leagues.

The Negro Leagues also contained a certain irreverent beauty in their independence from Major League Baseball. They didn't need baseball's validation to be special. There is magic in standing alone. . . . No inclusion of "official statistics" or the imprimatur of baseball can ever compare to that.

The better remedy, of course, would have been to tell the truth. But America does not do the truth very well. A century from now, because of what baseball has done, the record books will show an equality, a form of separate-but-equal fiction that at first glance absolves MLB of its active hand in destroying the careers of Black baseball players — and a Black institution. Historians will have to circumvent the now-public record to recover the truth. . . .

Baseball should have taken the honest road, which would be to carry its stain and leave the tattered, piecemeal records of the various Negro Leagues as a historical reminder of its own destructiveness. Baseball did not do that . . . because like most of white, mainstream society, it does not want to carry its share of the responsibility for the condition it created.

While baseball has taken what it considers to be a step toward reparation, it has taken another away from accountability. Part of the strength of an institution is in its acknowledgment of where it has failed, and who suffered because of that failure.

The various Negro Leagues played much shorter seasons (70-100 games) than the National and American leagues did, but so what?

The tradition of a 154- or 162-game schedule was not heaven-sent. MLB's own history shows there is no games-played threshold a team must clear to be considered "major league". Thomas Boswell (Washington Post) points out that MLB's records include "all members of the 1884 Wilmington Quicksteps, who played just 18 games".

The 2020 season consisted of only 60 games (fewer games than many Negro League seasons) and its stats are rightfully considered legitimate. Dave Sheinin (Washington Post) writes that this is "illustrative in demonstrating the legitimacy of Negro League stats".


Millions of us love baseball stats. But they are not sacred. MLB has had so many eras, such as Dead Ball and Lively Ball, as well as an era of PED cheating, that we long ago learned what is important in considering the history of the game and the greatness of its players: Step back, be fair-minded and use common sense. Don't squawk just because we can't perfectly compare player and eras. . . .

It's useful to remember MLB's statistical history offers little consistency or completeness. We take it as we find it and judge it as we will. . . .

The new Negro League numbers will have many . . . gaps, a byproduct of the discrimination that limited every aspect of those players' lives, right down to the tiny detail that many of their games got no box scores in papers.

As more information is gathered, all those Negro League stats will change, just as, over my life, I have watched the win, strikeout and hit totals change for Walter Johnson and many other White Hall of Famers.

What the true baseball fan wants to know is: everything. All the data that is available. We will figure out, each in our own way, what to make of it, how to rank it and, in some cases, how to get our jaws off the floor. . . .

MLB can never undo the wrong of its discrimination. But it can put the names and numbers of Negro League players where they belong: in the record book.

Tyler Kepner, New York Times:

Negro league play continued during the early years of the integrated majors, but John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, said the landscape changed so profoundly after 1948 — the year of the last Negro World Series — that Major League Baseball used that season as the cutoff.

Thorn attributed the changes to a bleeding of talent to the American and National leagues, and the dissolution of the second Negro National League. Recognizable stars like Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks came to the Negro leagues after 1948, and some leagues played as late as 1960. But extending the window to include them was not appropriate, he said.

"We're trying not to honor individual players but the league experience, and the Black experience in baseball and America," Thorn said.

Baseball-Reference's website lists 19,902 major league players. As Thorn quipped: "Any plans for a celebration of MLB's 20,000th player now have to go into the wastebasket."

The inclusion of the Negro Leagues is not the first time "major league" status has been granted to other professional leagues. In 1969, Major League Baseball recognized the American Association (1882-91), the Union Association (1884), the Players’ League (1890), and the Federal League (1914-15) as "major leagues" and incorporated their respective statistics.

There were Negro League seasons both before 1920 and after 1948, and excluding those years will mean some players' careers will be only partially recognized, as FanGraphs's Jay Jaffe notes:

Oscar Charleston's play with the Indianapolis ABCs in the Western Independent Clubs circuit from 1915-19 doesn't count in this context. Likewise with regards to the time that some well-known players spent in the Negro American League from 1949 through '62, as the quality of its play was eroded by integration. Ernie Banks played for the NAL's Kansas City Monarchs in 1950 before being signed by the Cubs, and Hank Aaron with the Indianapolis Clowns in '52 before joining the Braves. 

On the other hand, Jackie Robinson‘s time with the Monarchs in 1945, and Willie Mays‘ time with the Birmingham Black Barons in ’48 (but not ’49) will count, thus altering their career totals and rate stats, though currently, their numbers are incomplete.

Gibson's Hall of Fame plaque states that the legendary slugger hit "almost 800 home runs" in his fifteen-year career (he died at the age of 35). However, many of his home runs were hit in exhibition games and on barnstorming tours, however. Research by the Seamheads currently credits Gibson with 238 official homers (in 911 games), the most in Negro League history.

While box scores are still being uncovered (only 73% of the 12,525 Negro League games from 1920-48 have been found), it's possible Gibson will hold new major league records for career slugging percentage and highest season batting average.


The all-time MLB rankings for "rate" statistics, such as batting average, on the other hand, could see a wholesale rewriting. Gibson's career batting average of .365, for example, would rank second only to Cobb's .366 and — along with Jud Wilson's .359, Charleston's .350 and Turkey Stearns's .348 — would push Babe Ruth's .342 out of the top 10. Gibson's career slugging percentage of .690 would edge out Ruth's .6897 as the highest in major league history.

Single-season stats also would be affected, with Gibson's .441 batting average in 1943 supplanting Hugh Duffy's .440 for the 1897 Boston Beaneaters of the National League as the highest in a single season in history. Ted Williams, who hit .406 for the Boston Red Sox in 1941, would lose his status as the last player to hit .400 in a single season.

With the statistics from more than 3,000 Negro League games still unknown, the numbers for these players will continue to incrementally change, over many years. 


We'll never know their true totals, just as we can never make these men and their peers whole to compensate them for the injustices that they faced.

Which isn't to say that we should ignore the numbers . . . [G]rappling with the ramifications of the Negro Leagues' inclusion as major leagues should not mark the end of this story. By no means does MLB's action let it off the hook for the segregation that made the Negro Leagues necessary in the first place, and there is still reckoning that is overdue when it comes to the fall of the color barrier, MLB's role in destroying the viability of the very leagues it is suddenly celebrating, and the simplified, sanitized version of Robinson's story that it tells annually. All of us who care about the legacy of the Negro Leagues still have work to do.

Of course, the game's records for white players have been constantly updated and refined for decades. When Macmillan's Baseball Encyclopedia was first published in 1969, there were numerous changes to the season and career totals for hundreds of players, including several Hall of Famers. Research continues to this day, with a handful of obsessives pouring over old box scores and newspaper accounts, trying to accurately determine seasonal and career totals for players in the early years of the 20th Century.

The official record of the major leagues will never be complete — or completely accurate. It's likely there will be many Negro League games for which no box scores can be located. And then there are problems like this: What if there are two accounts of a 19th Century game, with one reporting a play as an "error" and the other stating it was a "hit". Which is correct?

Jay Jaffe pointed out some other oddities with the current system of record-keeping.

The National Association, which operated from 1871-75, is recognized as baseball's first professional league, but MLB and Elias don't count its stats. Thus, for example, it regards Hall of Fame pitcher Pud Galvin's win total as 361, while Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs credit him with 365 including his four NA wins. The accounting is similar when it comes to his NA peers including Cap Anson (to hell with that guy anyway). Here it should be pointed out that MLB/Elias and B-Ref/FanGraphs also differ on numbers that have nothing to do with the NA, such as Ty Cobb's career hit total, which is 4,191 via MLB/Elias, and 4,189 via B-Ref/FanGraph, the latter total reflecting diligent research to correct past errors.

Elias (and, thus, MLB) recognizes RBIs only since 1920, when the statistic became official. This has caused considerable confusion in a number of situations, including identifying the all-time leader in RBIs. My favourite factoid from this policy is that Babe Ruth hit 49 home runs from 1914-19 (which Elias recognizes), but officially had 0 RBI for his entire Red Sox career. (No wonder Frazee got rid of him.)

Clinton Yates (The Undefeated) offeres a sober and sharp-eyed corrective to the many huzzahs heard around the sport. Yates is not wrong when he calls MLB "the most duplicitously conservative sports league in the history of the United States of America".

There's a phrase coined, likely by some old white guy, that goes "winners write the history books." In the case of Major League Baseball, not only do they write the history books, but apparently they decide when everyone else's histories are legitimate, too. . . .

Of all the nonsense that the most duplicitously conservative sports league in the history of the United States of America has ever pulled, this might be the most ridiculous piece of soft supremacy we've ever seen. This announcement says: Be grateful, we now view you as whole. News flash: That's the problem. Not the solution. . . .

[T]here is a fundamental misunderstanding of a basic fact that needs to be recalled while everyone in midtown New York City is patting themselves on the back.

Negro does not mean less than. And never will. . . .

The goal here is not to be more like MLB. The goal is for MLB to get on board with the rest of the world in 2020. . . .

Branch Rickey, the guy who is famously credited with integrating the game by signing Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers, is also the same guy who effectively created the system we used to know as Minor League Baseball, until the bigs basically crushed the soul out of that, too. Reminder: Minor leaguers have never made a living wage. . . .

Black folks taught Japanese people how to like baseball. Black folks started playing night games because it was the only time white folks would let us use their stadiums. Black folks let women actually play on the field, not just stuck them in skirts and made a movie years later about it to much fanfare. . . .

It's well known that the reason the Negro Leagues failed is because of MLB's meddlesome approach. Once they started stealing the talent, the draw lessened. If you want to get hardcore, you could argue that Robinson going to Major League Baseball was a death knell for Black baseball, not the other way around. Why? Because all the systems of development and expertise that came along with us being us were tossed aside to appeal to the concept of being the apple of the white league's eye. . . .

Today, sure, it's great that MLB has decided that Black folks are worthy of their gaze. But don't forget about all the guys who are still fighting for what they consider to be fair pensions because the bigs enjoy paying lip service more than they do actual dollars. . . .

Major League Baseball is one league in one country. In 2020, joining the globe in recognizing that Black folks are real people without whom you could never survive is not a reason to say, "you're welcome." It's a reason to say sorry.

MLB continues to impose its will on the minor leagues in 2020, destroying dozens of teams in the process, as Jaffe notes:

MLB is in the midst of mercilessly muscling Minor League Baseball into a form more advantageous to its own needs, [so] one can be excused for seeing this as another move on the league’s part to act as gatekeeper for the entirety of baseball.

Joe Posnanski, The Athletic (and author of The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neil's America):

After 100 years of treating the Negro Leagues as a second-class entity, MLB is now admitting that it was wrong. MLB is now acknowledging, finally, that the Negro Leaguers played major-league baseball, that their achievements should be included in the official record, that the leagues were a triumph over MLB's shameful and secret agreement to keep the game segregated.

And MLB's shabby treatment of the Negro Leagues did not end when segregation ended. As you probably know, Branch Rickey refused to pay the Kansas City Monarchs a dime for Jackie Robinson, even though Robinson was under contract. He also didn't pay anything for Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, Joe Black or Junior Gilliam. The Negro Leagues, he said bluntly, were "not a legitimate business."

And so it went. Cool Papa Bell was not only a legendary player, he was a keen scout of talent. He was involved in helping Robinson develop, in the Cubs signing Ernie Banks and in the Yankees signing Elston Howard. The Dodgers, Cubs and Yankees did not pay him anything for this. . . .

So, Wednesday's announcement is, more than anything, an opportunity for Major League Baseball to cleanse its own soul. . . . Yes, it is long overdue, but the easiest thing when you have a long history of doing nothing is to just continue to do nothing. MLB stepped up here and — in the face of what will undoubtedly spark a lot of criticism — did the right thing. Countless young baseball fans over the next decades will be introduced to the Negro Leagues because of this announcement, and I'm proud of the sport for doing this. . . .

Now comes the harder part. . . .

[T]he most noticeable impact will be in the numbers. That's baseball's blessing and also baseball's curse: No sport comes even close to studying, analyzing, celebrating, criticizing and cherishing the numbers the way baseball fans do. Digits are baseball's DNA. . . .

[T]he whole point of the Negro Leagues themselves defied the idea of statistics. A Negro League team might play 12 games a week, some of them against another league team, some against small-town factory teams, some exhibitions games against White players, some intrasquad games with a few local people picked up to fill out the lineups.

How do you add up all those statistics? This is the hard and amazing work that people like John Holway and Larry Lester and the great folks at Seamheads have dedicated much of their lives to, and the statistics they have uncovered are extraordinary and fascinating. But what do you do with those numbers? With the latest efforts, Seamheads has found 3,859 verifiable plate appearances and 238 verifiable homers for the great Josh Gibson. That's amazing work and does give us just a small idea of how remarkable Gibson was as a hitter.

But if that's all you knew about Gibson … would it blow your mind?

If you saw 345 stolen bases for Cool Papa Bell — two more than Jacoby Ellsbury — would that suggest to you that he might have been the fastest player of all time?

If you saw that most seasons, Oscar Charleston played 50, 60, 70, maybe 80 games, how much could you really learn from that?

And here's the danger: That people will start to take the Negro Leagues numbers literally. And that cannot be the point. . . .

Bill James made the point that in baseball, the numbers are the things that last. Context gets dropped. Details get lost. But the numbers go on. Most baseball fans interested in history could probably tell you on the spot that Cy Young won 511 games (and they might remember when it was reduced from 512) and that this is the record. But they couldn't necessarily tell you that he won 72 of them before the mound was moved back to 60 feet, 6 inches, and won another 119 of them in the earliest days of the American League, when the quality of play was, well … let's just say shaky. . . .

The Negro Leagues thrive in our minds because of the great storytelling, the joyous myths, the eyewitness accounts, the power of imagination and the great esteem we feel for these men (and, later, women) who overcame the worst of America and played brilliant baseball. None of this can be replaced by incomplete numbers from a league that would play anywhere to survive.

The other thing will be the potential backlash at the changing of numbers. We all know how protective and possessive baseball fans can be about numbers. . . .

According to Ben Lindbergh’s terrific story about all this, Willie Mays hit a home run in his one year with the Birmingham Black Barons, but the box score has not been found. If it is found, Mays' "official" home run total would go from the famous and magical 660 to the less charming 661. And that, I expect, will create an uproar. . . .

What to do about the .400 seasons? In 1943, Josh Gibson hit .441 in 78 games. Will it be MLB's contention that Gibson, not Ted Williams in 1941, had the last .400 season in the major leagues? And if so, what about Artie Wilson hitting .431 in 39 games in 1948, the last Negro Leagues season that MLB recognizes as major league? . . .

[A] lot of stuff is going to be adjusted. And I have no doubt some people will be angry about that. I have no doubt they will counter by knocking the quality of play of the Negro Leagues, by knocking the quality of the stat-keeping, by misusing the stats to say the Negro Leagues legends were not as great as they were. MLB should brace itself for this.

Yes, this was a great first step for baseball. But the fight isn't over.

The Athletic held a six-person roundtable to discuss "what this means for MLB and the legacy of the Negro Leagues".

Marc Carig: National MLB Writer
Marcus Thompson II: Senior Columnist – Bay Area
Kavitha Davidson: Host/Editorial Director – The Lead Podcast
Jason Jones: Staff Writer – Sacramento Kings
Lindsey Adler: Staff Writer – New York Yankees
Ryan S. Clark: NHL Reporter – Seattle Kraken

When you heard of MLB's decision to officially "elevate" the Negro Leagues to Major League status, what were your initial thoughts?

Clark: Why now? We know why, but why did it take until 2020? The Negro Leagues and its legacy has been around for generations. Something like this could have happened much earlier than December 2020. I certainly get how the events of this year have led to more people asking questions about race and racism. . . . Major League Baseball was the first to take a major step forward. Yet with this, it was a step that came extremely late in the process.

Davidson: If I'm being perfectly honest, my immediate reaction was, quite literally, "Yessssssss!" And that was MLB's entirely intended effect — to get a pat on the back for doing something they should've done decades ago. . . . The more I thought about it, though, and the more I talked it through with people, the more I started asking not just "why now," but why at all? Why was this actually necessary? . . . [T]he statement by MLB's official historian, John Thorn, included an important acknowledgment: "The perceived deficiencies of the Negro Leagues' structure and scheduling were born of MLB's exclusionary practices." The only deficiencies here were MLB's, and admitting those mistakes is appreciated.

Thompson: "Oh, so now they're good?" was my initial reaction. . . . It reeked of baseball's arrogance. It wasn't so much the inclusion of Negro League players, but the idea that somehow they are being officialized by this inclusion. . . . [T]he pretentiousness of believing this to somehow be an elevation of those players, as if they're being knighted posthumously, is insane and offensive.

Adler: [T]he Negro Leagues do not need MLB's stamp of endorsement to have been highly competitive, formidable leagues in their own right, [but] that part of baseball's history is still regrettably hidden away. Segregated from American baseball lore, really. The Negro Leagues, I think, have often been seen as sort of a farm system–level circuit from which simply the best players were plucked. There's sort of a sense that Jackie Robinson was plucked from some disreputable baseball environment and we celebrate his ability to progress to the more important league. Above all else, my first thought was that it was great that Willie Mays got to see this in his lifetime . . .

Who benefits the most from [this] announcement? 

Clark: It has to be the family members of those who played in the Negro Leagues. Along with those former Negro Leaguers who are still living. . . . It's not to say fans and players cannot benefit. They certainly can from learning about history. But this is more about those who played a part in building that history and never seeing it get the proper respect it deserved.

Davidson: The hope is that this might lead to some kind of actual pension settlement for the Negro Leagues players who are still alive and the families of those who aren't. I'd also hope that this results in an influx of end-of-year donations to the Negro League Museum in Kansas City . . . But I suspect this will mainly serve MLB's image and ease some of the guilt felt by some fans.

Jones: It should begin with the descendants of Negro League players. Those players never received the pension and benefits they deserved because they were kept out of MLB. I would love to see them honored by baseball and an apology that it took so long for this to happen. Ultimately, MLB benefits the most.

Thompson: It should be the descendants of these great players who not only get recognized for the excellence of their ancestors, but also should be compensated in some fashion. . . . MLB will capitalize financially on this welcoming, it wouldn't be a good business if it didn't, and the league should make sure the family members share in that compensation. It is the least it can do since none of those players benefited from MLB's pension.

Is it fair to be cynical about MLB's decision? 

Clark: Totally. . . . Here is the difficult part. Do you give someone credit for finally recognizing a blind spot? Or do you just leave it as, "It's about time and please do better next time?"

Davidson: Yes. . . . Let's also not overlook the fact that MLB is the reason the Negro Leagues  — by some accounts, the most profitable Black-run business entity at the time — ultimately folded. . . . MLB poached the Negro Leagues' talent without putting any infrastructure in place to ensure the pipeline of young Black kids playing baseball continued beyond that (which, I guess is right in line with how America has historically treated thriving Black businesses).

Thompson: Noooooo. Why in the world would we ever be cynical about Major League Baseball's motives???? It is the right thing to do. . . . [But] they have a lot more work to do before being worthy of applause.

Jones: It would be insane not to be cynical. . . . That doesn't mean this isn't good. It is a good thing and if done right, will be good for many connected to the Negro Leagues. But to believe this doesn't come with any other motives would be naive.

Adler: Rightfully, there are concerns about MLB co-opting and sanitizing the Negro Leagues history the way they have with the story of Jackie Robinson's life. (By the way, Jackie's daughter, Sharon, gave a really fascinating perspective on that here.)

Carig: Yes, it is fair to be cynical. Baseball history with matters of race does not afford the institution the benefit of the doubt. We saw it earlier this year, when after years of celebrating Jackie Robinson, MLB was painfully slow in acknowledging systemic racism during the strife of the summer. . . . I get the cynicism, and I think it is fair. However, I ultimately see this as a net positive. I keep coming back to recognition. To me, that's a big deal. Even if the path to get there was imperfect, recognition, however late, is better than alternative of none at all.

What will be the long-term impact of [MLB's] decision?

Clark: This moment is a microcosm of how baseball really is America's pastime. For many years, there was a group of Black baseball players who had a successful professional league. One that was not always shown a high level of respect in a sport that talks about honor and tradition. Now the Negro Leagues are receiving credit at a time when people feel guilty about how they have handled the past. If that does not sum up how America has handled race in 2020, then, what does?

Davidson: I guess the aim here is mainstream respect, which the Negro Leagues should have anyway. It sounds like Major League Baseball would like for people to mention these players among the greatest ever without having to qualify that they're the greatest *Black* players ever, which also sounds like the baseball version of "not seeing color." But let's also hope this truly signals that the league has begun some introspection on how it has failed Black fans and players in the past . . . 

Adler: To be determined. The long-term impact I hope for is that it leads to wider knowledge of Negro League history, making it baseball history for everyone instead of a marginalized part of the sport's history that gave us some MLB legends.

Thompson: I was at Clark Atlanta University during the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase. I wrote a column for the school paper about McGwire, who as an Oakland A's slugger was a key part of my childhood sports fandom. A professor pulled me aside and asked me how come I wasn't writing about Josh Gibson? The honest answer was because I really didn't know who that was outside of a Homestead Grays jersey. The challenge from the teacher sent me down a rabbit hole . . . I had no idea how central to the African-American experience baseball once was, how good Black people were at it, and its role in race relations. . . . I came to appreciate baseball for what it meant to my ancestors . . . Knowing history makes us all better.

Jones: Ideally this reaching back into the past would help MLB bring baseball back to Black America in a major way. . . . I'm afraid many do not realize the role Blacks had in shaping baseball and that it didn't just start with Jackie Robinson. There's a rich baseball history in this country, and like many industries, the contributions of Blacks have been ignored or erased. If this works toward changing that, baseball is on to something, no matter the reason why it made the decision to recognize the Negro Leagues.

1 comment:

Paul Hickman said...

Got to this story rather late - just saw the interview on PBS Newshour from back in December

The Stats are never ever complete or accurate - just as close as we can get & we still argue about things in this year, decade & century !

I have no problem with "adjusting" a pile of stats - so be it, if that is the small price of greater recognition for an era that was shameful in lots of respects.

Not enough can be said about what some of those players were put through, when all they wanted to do was go out & play.

A simple childhood dream turned into a racial nightmare - like the rest of their lives & it is of course, vastly ironic, that in 2020, a Century on, how much has really changed ?