Major League Baseball Seeks to Repair Some of the Harms of Racial Segregation


Willie Mays, now 93, gained 10 hits from the 1948 Birmingham Black Barons, increasing his career total to 3,293.

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

In a move that models what’s been called a “necessary reckoning” with its history of segregation and racial injustice, Major League Baseball announced today that the statistics of more than 2,300 Negro Leagues ballplayers from 1920 to 1948 have been officially incorporated into MLB’s historical records.

The integration of the data is part of MLB’s effort to remedy the exclusion of all seven Negro Leagues from “major league” status in 1969.

In 2020, MLB acknowledged that error when it officially designated the Negro Leagues as “Major Leagues” and announced plans to incorporate Negro Leaguers’ statistics and records into MLB’s official record books.

A History of Racial Injustice

Until 1947, when Jackie Robison famously integrated the league, MLB excluded Black and Latino players, who formed their own teams and traveled around the country, many for little pay. 

“We got one dollar a day meal money, and we would buy one loaf of bread and we would buy a big jar of peanut butter,” the legendary Hank Aaron, who played in the Negro Leagues before entering MLB, recalled. “That’s what we lived off of for three or four days.”

Unlike MLB, whose well-funded league offices preserved decades of stats in bound volumes, Negro Leagues often lacked the resources to create consolidated records. As the Athletic explained:

Their stats were not kept in one place. They were scattered across local newspapers, often with only a two-sentence summary and no box score. The season schedule sometimes fluctuated by the day. There was a league season — typically 60 to 80 games — plus unofficial barnstorming games, All-Star games and whatever series might attract a crowd.

So MLB assembled a 15-person Negro Leagues Statistical Review Committee made up of historians, writers, and statisticians to set standards for designating and verifying official stats. They excluded barnstorming games, and after MLB verified a 60-game season during Covid, they relied on that recent precedent to verify Negro League seasons with at least 60 games.

“Shortened Negro League schedules, interspersed with revenue-raising exhibition games, were born of MLB’s exclusionary practices,” John Thorn, MLB’s official historian, who chaired the committee, told the Athletic. “To deny the best Black players of the era their rightful place among all-time leaders would be a double penalty.”

Once the committee set criteria for validating data—including the requirement that only games with box scores would be counted—they worked with the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database and Elias Sports Bureau (MLB’s dedicated stat keeper) to painstakingly populate a database and verify the data, according to the Athletic.

Larry Lester, an author and researcher who served on the committee, told the Athletic that, for decades, people told him that because “African-Americans were apathetic about recording baseball history,” these numbers did not exist. He said he’s proud to have helped prove them wrong.

Correcting the Record

Today, MLB announced that the integrated official historical record shows that Hall of Famer Josh Gibson, who spent his entire career in the Negro Leagues, is now the all-time career leader in batting average (surpassing Ty Cobb), slugging percentage (exceeding Babe Ruth), and on-base plus slugging percentage (replacing Babe Ruth as the all-time best), and he holds the all-time single-season records in all three of those categories.

“When you hear Josh Gibson’s name now, it’s not just that he was the greatest player in the Negro Leagues,’’ Mr. Gibson’s great-grandson, Sean, told USA TODAY, “but one of the greatest of all-time. These aren’t just Negro League stats. They’re major-league baseball stats.’’

“This means so much for not only the Josh Gibson family, but representing the 2,300 men in the Negro Leagues who didn’t get the opportunity to play [in the Major Leagues].’’

MLB players and lovers of the game praised the “long overdue” inclusion of Negro Leagues stats, AP reports.

 “Baseball history is a part of U.S. history, and I think (the) major leagues acknowledging and incorporating the Negro Leagues is a huge step in kind of bringing all the parts of baseball history together,” Tyrus Cobb, Ty Cobb’s great-grandson, told the AP. “And I think it’s actually pretty exciting that there’s a new statistical batting average leader.”