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The MLB is adding Negro Leagues’ stats. It gives Black players long overdue credit.


Major League Baseball has officially added players’ stats from the Negro Leagues to its historical record, a move that allows Black players’ contributions to be credited alongside their white counterparts. 

Previously, Negro Leagues’ players were omitted from these archives, meaning the records they set were not acknowledged by the MLB, essentially erasing their successes. The change incorporates Negro League players’ stats from a time when baseball was still segregated, and Black players were barred from playing in the Major Leagues. Following the addition, Black athletes from the Negro Leagues now hold several records, including that of highest career batting average — .372 — held by former Homestead Grays player Josh Gibson. 

This decision marks a major step in commemorating and honoring the gameplay of 2,300 players in the Negro Leagues and is long overdue. It highlights, too, the significance records have in determining who gets remembered and what stories get told. 

What’s changed about the stats

The new stats include data from seven Negro Leagues, which operated between 1920 and 1948. These leagues were formed as venues where Black athletes could play given they were barred from the American League and National League, two of the largest baseball entities at that time. 

In 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first Black player to play in Major League Baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers, finally integrating the sport. In 1948, the leagues held the last segregated World Series. 

MLB first announced its decision to incorporate Negro Leagues’ statistics in 2020, and formed a 15-person committee to help determine how to do so. In the past, concerns about whether Negro Leagues’ data was comprehensive enough were among the reasons it wasn’t fully included. As The Athletic reports, records for the Negro Leagues had previously been more scattered and less organized due to lack of funding and coordination. Dedicated fans, including those behind Seamheads, a data research group that has focused specifically on compiling and verifying data about the records of Black baseball players, played a significant role in filling these gaps by analyzing countless newspaper reports to find information.

“In recent decades, the tireless work of researchers combing through newspapers, scorebooks, and microfiche led to the expanded availability of Negro League statistics (culminating most notably in the expansive database compiled by Seamheads) and made it viable to include these leagues in the historical record,” Anthony Castrovince explains for MLB.com. For now, experts estimate that they’ve gathered 75 percent of the stats for the Negro Leagues. 

One major difference the MLB’s team had to navigate was that Negro Leagues’ regular seasons tended to be shorter, so players were evaluated based on their play across roughly 60-game seasons compared to the longer 150-plus game seasons other MLB leagues have played. (Negro League players played more games, Seamheads co-founder Gary Ashwill notes, but they were often outside the regular season.) As a result, Negro Leagues’ players are less likely to feature in records for total home runs scored, for example, though they have now taken prominent slots for career averages. 

The significance of the stats

The stats help celebrate the achievements of players in the Negro Leagues and provide a more thorough recounting of their accomplishments. Previously, it was difficult to compare across leagues as no official database existed.

“When people look at MLB stats now, they’ll get a truer picture of who was good, great or transcendent, regardless of which league they played in,” writes CNN’s Harry Enten.

They also reckon with longstanding injustices in baseball, including the segregation of the leagues and the subsequent lack of recognition given to Black players in the Negro Leagues. 

“Black baseball history still remains a separate ghetto outside the mainstream history of white baseball,” researcher John Holway wrote in 2001. While such disparities are improving, MLB is still grappling with a number of racial inequities, as the number of Black players in the league has decreased over time, and as management of teams has stayed predominantly white

The decision to formally include Negro Leagues’ stats is one step toward acknowledging its gaps.

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