On Wednesday, Major League Baseball announced the official recognition of the Negro Leagues statistics and records. The decision corrects one of the sport’s worst racial flaws of the past, after failing to formally recognize over 3,400 players and their accomplishments from 1920 to 1948.
For players that played in both the Major Leagues and the Negro Leagues, there will be some changes to statistics. A thorough review by the Elias Sports Bureau will determine official changes, and they will be reflected in the history books.
Willie Mays, though a minor change, is one example for this. He will be credited with 17 more hits because of his time with the Birmingham Black Barons in 1948.
There will also be a change to the highest single season batting average. In 1943, Josh Gibson hit .441, breaking Hugh Duffy’s .440 mark from 1894.
It would also become the most recent .400 season, ahead of Ted Williams in 1941.
Within the Major League record books, there will finally be representation for some of the greatest players of all time.
A Segregated History
On May 1, 1884, Moses Fleetwood Walker was the opening day catcher for the Toledo Blue Stockings in the American Association. He became the first African American to play in baseball’s Major League. His brother, Weldy, also joined the team later in the season.
He later joined the Newark Little Giants, an International League team and formed a battery with George Stovey, creating the first African American pitcher-catcher duo in baseball history.
However, upon his release in 1889, he became the last black baseball player in the Major Leagues for 60 years. It was that same year when Major League Baseball fell in line with the Jim Crow laws, prohibiting African American players from playing in the league.
Major League Baseball remained segregated until 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Prohibited from playing in the MLB, black players and owners formed their own league beginning in 1920.
For the next 27 years, black players would be forced to play separate from white players, traveling across America, drawing large crowds with over 30 teams. They would play in stadiums rented from Major League teams, sometimes outdrawing their counterparts.
During the 1930s, the East-West all-star game even outdrew the Major League all-star game a few different times.
However, over this time, some of the most talented players in baseball history never got the chance to have their name next to the Major Leaguers’.
In reality, they were equivalent and, in some ways, better than the white players.
Greatness in the Negro Leagues
Over the years, Negro League and Major League teams faced off in various exhibitions. Of the 194 recorded meetings, their record was 96-98 against their white counterparts.
Joe DiMaggio even called legend Satchel Paige the greatest pitcher he ever faced. The two matched up when DiMaggio was just 21 years old in 1936. He went 1-4 off Paige and it was seen as a sign of DiMaggio’s greatness.
“DiMaggio everything we’d hoped he’d be: Hit Satch one for four,” a Yankees scout at the game wrote in a telegram after the game. It shows how revered Paige was.
The San Francisco Chronicle later wrote: “If Satchel Paige had a white skin, he would be worth $100,000 to any big league club that could afford to lay out the money.”
There is also the legend of Josh Gibson, reportedly the greatest home run hitter ever. By some accounts, he supposedly hit over 800 home runs during his career. Unfortunately, inconsistencies in statistics don’t show this many home runs.
Over his career, he won 12 home run titles and is known to have been the only player to ever hit the ball completely out of Yankee Stadium. He always dreamed of playing in the Major Leagues but died of a stroke just three months before Jackie Robinson’s debut. He was only 35.
The MLB’s decision to recognize the Negro League as a Major League, though much overdue, will finally bring players like this into the sport’s official scorebook.
It is a long time coming for this move, but it is a step towards rectifying the sport’s past injustices. Now, the Major Leagues will welcome thousands of new players into the history book, further diversifying and including a major piece of baseball’s history.