MLB Honors Negro Leagues Legends by Elevating Their Stats to Major League Status

Elgin Nelson

The accomplishments of roughly 2,300 Negro Leagues players will be acknowledged alongside MLB legends such as Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb thanks to a monumental decision made by Major League Baseball (MLB) to address the long-overdue issue of officially including Negro Leagues statistics in its historical records.

Historically, Ruth and Cobb were celebrated as baseball’s greatest figures, with Ruth recognized as the best player and Cobb as the premier hitter. However, these accolades excluded African American athletes, whose contributions were largely overlooked. This exclusion persisted until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 as the first Black player in the modern Major Leagues. MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred announced this significant change three years ago, underlining the league’s dedication to correcting a historical injustice by elevating the Negro Leagues to “Major League” status.

John Thorn, an MLB historian, along with the Negro Leagues Statistical Review Committee, has undertaken the detailed task of incorporating Negro Leagues statistics into MLB records. The team has meticulously reviewed thousands of box scores and other historical documents to integrate the data from the seven Negro Leagues into MLB’s database. Players like Josh Gibson, a standout in the Negro Leagues, will now lead multiple batting categories, with his career statistics surpassing those of Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth in several areas. While some of Gibson’s legendary feats, like the nearly 800 home runs mentioned on his Hall of Fame plaque, will remain unofficial, many of his official stats will now be included.

“You get to learn about a lot of names and a lot of people that we may not have heard about,” Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen said. “Now that Josh Gibson is at the top of OPS, batting average, and a few other categories, it’s great news. But it’s more than just that and the numbers. It’s great that you now get to learn about the players in the Negro Leagues. … I’ll be able to do some more deep diving into some names that I may not have heard of.” Thorn praised the decision as “not only righting a social, cultural, and historical wrong but defining baseball as a game for all Americans, without exclusion.” He emphasized that while baseball is steeped in tradition, its ability for significant change is equally important.

As a tribute to the Negro Leagues, MLB will host a commemorative game on June 20 at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama—the oldest professional baseball park in the U.S. Players will wear period uniforms and honor legendary center fielder Willie Mays, an Alabama native. With these statistics now integrated, players like Buck Leonard, Buck O’Neil, Cool Papa Bell, Doc Sykes, Monte Irvin, Leroy Satchel Paige, and Josh Gibson will finally receive the recognition they deserve, allowing fans to appreciate their incredible talents and contributions fully.

Sean Gibson, the great-grandson of Josh Gibson and the executive director of the Josh Gibson Foundation, shared the family’s enthusiasm regarding this recognition. “We always thought of him as a major leaguer; he just didn’t play in the major leagues.”

“If Josh Gibson were alive today, he’d be honored. He’d probably wonder why it took so long. He’d be happy for all the other baseball players, and most importantly, he’d be excited for his family to continue his legacy.”

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