Major League Baseball recognizes Seven Negro Leagues as equals and a full part of the story of baseball.
In 2019, Washington finally returned to the World Series. Amid much fanfare, high drama, heroic acts, and baby sharks, the Nationals prevailed and won the title in a gripping seven-game series against the Houston Astros. Throughout the television coverage, an emphasis was made on the historic nature of the victory and the decades-long drought. Perhaps foreshadowing events to come, the more frequent drought number cited was not the 95 years since the old Senators won in 1924. Instead, announcers and the team itself spoke repeatedly of bringing the first championship title to Washington since the Homestead Grays won the 1948 Negro League World Series.
Major League Baseball is now giving authority to that claim. After much consideration, Seven Negro Leagues that played at various times from 1920 through 1948 will be recognized as major leagues.
Decision and Factors for the Seven Negro Leagues
Three factors likely played a significant role in the decision to reevaluate these highly-talented leagues and afford them the respect they have long been due.
This year is the centennial anniversary of the founding of the Negro Leagues. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum organized multiple efforts to commemorate the occasion, and others joined in the festivities. Perhaps the two most influential activities were the #TipYourCap celebration and the publication of The Negro Leagues Were Major Leagues. This brought attention to the Seven Negro Leagues generally. The latter made a persuasive case for their record-book inclusion, focusing on the talent level of the players and the organization of the leagues themselves.
The second factor was the national conversation on race that took place this summer. From Black Lives Matter rallies to protests against police brutality to the removal of Confederate iconography from public squares, the need to address historic racial discrimination has been brought to the forefront. This movement has touched many aspects of American society, including sports and now official MLB records. In this way, the Negro Leagues’ recognition can be seen as another victory for equality and integration.
In some ways crucially for statistics-obsessed baseball, researchers have compiled thousands of box scores and news reports to assemble a nearly comprehensive listing of Negro League accomplishments. The Seamheads Negro Leagues Database proves that documentation exists to more seamlessly incorporate the Seven Negro Leagues stats into the same record books as the segregated white leagues and the integrated majors of today.
A New and More Accurate Record Book
More than other sports, experiencing baseball means interacting with history. Baseball is a series of essentially one-on-one contests and frankly such particular and bizarre construction of gameplay. Owing to the unique nature of the game itself, baseball performance can be measured statistically in a way that each player can be judged against peers across space and time.
The mathematical outputs created are a favorite of many fans. Stats like batting average, home runs, and slugging percentage are frequently discussed. With the sabermetrics revolution, on-base percentage, wins above replacement, and win shares rose to equal or even higher levels of interest.
With this in mind, the aforementioned Seamheads Negro Leagues stats can be added to the official records and allow fans to compare Negro Leagues stars and regulars with their counterparts in the white leagues and the integrated leagues of today.
Record books will be updated to reflect the previously unrecognized reality. Players who spent time in both the Seven Negro Leagues and integrated leagues will have their major league stats amended. Greats like Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, Roy Campanella, and Satchel Paige come to mind. Stars of the segregated leagues will finally be afforded equal status. Josh Gibson, Babe Ruth, Smokey Joe Williams, Lefty Grove, Cool Papa Bell, and Mel Ott now exist officially as equals.
So here are a few changes that likely will become official soon (final numbers subject to change depending on exactly which games end up becoming official):
- Oscar Charleston: 67.2 WAR, 300 stolen bases, .350 BA/.429 OBP/.575 SLG.
- Roy Campanella: 1,415 hits, .356 OBP, 125.6 OPS+.
- Satchel Paige: 1.093 WHIP, 1,420 strikeouts, 52.1 WAR.
- Kansas City Monarchs with 8 titles, including two World Series and six pennants in years without a World Series.
- Seven more clubs with World Series victories to add to the 27 with wins in the segregated and integrated leagues. Those added to the record books include the Kansas City Monarchs, Homestead Grays, Chicago American Giants, Hilldale Daisies, Cleveland Buckeyes, Newark Eagles, and New York Cubans.
For those interested, test your knowledge of the integrated stats in a series of quizzes that include the Seven Negro Leagues.
So now fans can have the official complete picture and a better context. Rather than thinking in terms of African-Americans finally making the majors, we can recognize they already enjoyed major league success. We can see 1947 and subsequent years as the integration of the two previously segregated major league systems.
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