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Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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MLB Integrates Negro Leagues Stats and Forgotten Stars: What It Means

  • The inclusion of Negro Leagues records in MLB’s official statistical record is part of a larger recognizance.
  • Career leaders in several key batting and pitching categories have shifted dramatically.
Josh Gibson. painting
Syndication: Cincinnati

Major League Baseball has made a dramatic move to expand how the history of the sport is told—one that will reframe who the greats of both yesterday and today are, and one that expands its overall recognizance of the contribution of the Negro Leagues. 

The league formally incorporated on Wednesday the records of former Negro Leagues players into its official statistics, allowing players who were banned from MLB due to segregation to be considered in the same way as white players. 

The result of more than three years of work by a league-commissioned research group, the inclusion of the Negro Leagues statistics created some immediate and dramatic shifts in MLB’s all-time leaderboards. Josh Gibson (above, in painting) now has baseball’s best career batting average (.372) and slugging percentage (.718), overtaking Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth, respectively, and top-10 lists for many key batting and pitching records have changed substantially. 

Overall, more than 2,300 players competing in seven iterations of the Negro Leagues between 1920 and ’48 have been integrated into MLB’s statistical record. Since the history and statistics of baseball are integral to the overall fandom and culture of the sport, a move such as this arguably resonates much more than if it happened elsewhere. This also likely will have significant impacts on future inductions to the Baseball Hall of Fame, which also can produce a sizable influx of income for those players and the shrine itself.  

“Their accomplishments on the field will be a gateway to broader learning about this triumph in American history and the path that led to Jackie Robinson’s 1947 Dodger debut,” said MLB commissioner Rob Manfred of the Negro Leagues. 

More Diversity On, Off Field

The incorporation of the Negro Leagues statistics represents the third major commemoration this year of this segment of baseball’s history. The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., held last weekend its Hall of Fame East-West Classic, a tribute to the Negro Leagues East-West All-Star Game that ran annually from 1933 to ’62. And on June 20, MLB will stage a game between the Cardinals and Giants at Alabama’s historic Rickwood Field, a park that opened in 1910 and hosted Negro Leagues games for decades. 

“I hope the programming around [the Rickwood game] leaves a real imprint … in terms of the history, appreciating how important that field is to the history of the Negro Leagues,” Manfred said last week at the conclusion of MLB owners meetings in New York. “I think the focus on the history of the Negro Leagues is consistent with our efforts to produce diversity on the field and in the front office.”

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