Major League Baseball is making an attempt to at least partially atone for a system that kept African-Americans –some of the best players ever, from participating in MLB until the Jackie Robinson breakthrough in 1947. For the first time, MLB is officially recognizing that the quality of the segregation-era Negro Leagues as they were then known, was comparable to its own product from that time period. Individual playing records of Negro League players will now be incorporated into the official records of Major League Baseball.
Addressing what MLB described as a “long overdue recognition,” Commissioner Rob Manfred on Wednesday bestowed Major League status upon seven professional Negro Leagues that operated between 1920 and 1948. The decision means that the approximately 3,400 players of the Negro Leagues during this time period are officially considered Major Leaguers, with their stats and records becoming a part of Major League history.
“All of us who love baseball have long known that the Negro Leagues produced many of our game’s best players, innovations and triumphs against a backdrop of injustice,” Manfred said in a statement. “We are now grateful to count the players of the Negro Leagues where they belong: as Major Leaguers within the official historical record.”
The seven leagues combined to produce 35 Hall of Famers, and the result of MLB’s decision is that Negro League legends such as Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston and Cool Papa Bell have achieved the Major League status denied to them in their living years by the injustice of segregation.
As part of the decision, MLB and the Elias Sports Bureau — MLB’s official statistician — have begun a review process to determine the full scope of the designation’s effect on records and statistics. Historians and other experts will be consulted as part of that process.
The Negro Leagues’ status change was applauded by Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick.
“For historical merit, it is extraordinarily important,” Kendrick said. “Having been around so many of the Negro League players, they never looked to Major League Baseball to validate them. But for fans and for historical sake, this is significant, it really is. So we are extremely pleased with this announcement. And for us, it does give additional credence to how significant the Negro Leagues were, both on and off the field.”
Much like Black players were long denied the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues prior to Jackie Robinson’s arrival in 1947, those who participated in the Negro Leagues have long been denied this classification.
“For more than 3,400 players, very few of whom are alive, their families will now be able to say their records were included among white Major Leaguers of the period,” Thorn said. “There’s no distinction to be made. They were all big leaguers.”