In an attempt to right the wrongs of past racial inequality, Major League Baseball (MLB) has added players from the Negro Leagues to its official records. This decision is long overdue and Black baseball players will finally get the “recorded” recognition they deserve, in comparison to white athletes who many of the Negro players top in statistics.
It was announced Wednesday that more than 3,400 players from seven Negro leagues operating from 1920 to 1948 – when MLB didn’t allow Black players – will now be considered “major leaguers,” in a move that will shake up the record books.
The group of seven Negro Leagues has already produced 35 Hall of Famers, including stars like Willie Mays, Larry Doby, Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson and Oscar Charleston.
For decades, the tales were told of their accomplishments, but these men were snubbed out of the national archives by their white counterparts.
With the new inclusion, Mays is likely to be credited with 17 more hits from his time with the Birmingham Black Barons in 1948, bringing his career total – including hits from his time with the Giants and the Mets – to 3,300.
And Gibson is at the center of the biggest change. It is now expected that Gibson, who is called the “Black Babe Ruth,” will be awarded the single season record for batting average, placing him on top of Hugh Duffy, the white player who currently holds the record.
John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, said the landscape changed so profoundly after 1948 — the year of the last Negro World Series — that Major League Baseball used that season as the cutoff.
The MLB says it’s proud to highlight the contributions of these pioneers. In all, a total of 40 players, managers and executives who spent all or part of their careers in the Negro Leagues have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
So how will the newly recorded “history” change?
Stats and facts still need to be verified and merged, but here is a list of what could shift, according to Mike Oz of Yahoo Sports.
Josh Gibson’s homerun rankings
Gibson is the best hitter from the Negro Leagues era He’s one of the most widely recognized Negro Leagues stars, a Hall of Famer already and a man with his own mythology. While folklore has him hitting 800 homers, lots and lots of those weren’t during what’s being considered the major leagues here. His official homer count for this time period, as currently verified and counted by the Seamheads database, is 238. That ties him for 264th all-time with the likes of Ray Lankford and J.D. Martinez.
Where Gibson may have a claim to history is the single season batting average mark and the most recent .400 season. He hit .441 in 1943, which would top Hugh Duffy’s .440 in 1894 and be a more recent .400 season than Ted Williams’ .406 in 1941.
Willie Mays’ official record rises in hits and homers
Mays is one of the biggest stars who also played in the Negro Leagues. Before he debuted with the New York Giants, Mays played one season for the 1948 Birmingham Black Barons and had 17 hits, 10 of them coming during the playoffs. He’s No. 12 all-time with 3,283 and would need 32 more hits to tie Eddie Collins at No. 11, but it could affect who’s coming next. Albert Pujols is currently 15th all-time with 3,236.
Mays also hit at least one home run during that season with the Black Barons, but as The Ringer notes, a box score hasn’t been found to accompany the game story that has been uncovered. That could eventually change his home run total, which memorably stands at 660.
Leon Day’s opening day no-hitter
Bob Feller won’t be the only pitcher with an opening day no-hitter anymore. Day threw one in 1946 for the Newark Eagles. Day hadn’t pitched since 1942 after being drafted into World War II. That opening day start in 1946 was his first since returning from duty.
Satchel Paige’s legacy gets much stronger
Paige is perhaps the most well-known pitcher from the Negro Leagues, having pitched in MLB for five seasons in his 40s (and returning for one game at 59 years old). He’s already a Hall of Famer, but the record books will now be a more accurate representation of his career.
With the merging of the stats, he stands to gain 115 wins over 18 seasons. Added to that are 112 complete games, 25 shutouts, 1,524 strikeouts and a fantastic 2.36 ERA over 1,536 innings. Again, shorter seasons in the Negro Leagues limit him from matching the cumulative numbers of some of MLB’s great starters (his win total is 143), but his story is now better told as one of the most important pitchers in baseball history.
Hank Aaron’s home run total remains strong
One thing that would have caused a tectonic shift in the record books was if Hank Aaron’s 1952 season in the Negro Leagues counted. He hit either eight or nine home runs that season, depending on the source, but Barry Bonds sits atop the all-time home run leaderboard by seven, so either one of those being accepted would have made Hank No. 1 again.
The 1948 cutoff for the Negro Leagues came about after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, making the leagues more like the minor leagues than the majors.
It’s been a long time coming, and yet, we still have much farther to go.