There aren’t many benefits that arose specifically from the pandemic-shortened MLB season, but one of them is fully realized today.
The Ringer followed up on its report from August, breaking the news that Major League Baseball is recognizing the Negro Leagues as a major league on par with the National and American Leagues, as well as the American Association (1882-91), Union Association (1884), Players’ League (1890) and Federal League (1914-15).
The designation covers the Negro Leagues from 1920 through 1948, covering the time after Rube Foster established the most enduring association of Negro League teams to shortly after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.
In setting the cutoffs at 1920 and 1948, MLB is following the leads of the researchers at Seamheads and the authors of The Negro Leagues Were Major Leagues, who settled on the same period. “There was no enduring league prior to 1920,” [MLB official historian John] Thorn says. And although some historians have made the case for fixing the end date at 1950 or 1951, integration and the resulting raiding of Negro Leagues rosters by AL and NL clubs quickly took a toll on the Negro Leagues’ talent levels and financial viability after Jackie Robinson signed with the Dodgers prior to the 1946 season and debuted in the big leagues in 1947. 1948 also marks the last year in which the Negro World Series was played, as well as the final year of operation for the second Negro National League. “It seems to us [that] to extend the end date into the ’50s when there was very little league structure and a lot of barnstorming and a lot of clubs coming and going would make the results more amorphous,” Thorn says.
When I first looked at this concept in August, what jumped out to me was its potential impact on Minnie Miñoso’s Hall of Fame candidacy. In his previous attempts to gain entry into Cooperstown, voters were urged to consider only his Negro Leagues work in the special election of 2006, and exclusively his MLB career in other veterans committees. His pre-integration career only lasted three seasons, while his MLB career didn’t start in earnest until he was 25 or so.
Treating Miñoso’s time with the New York Cubans as the same as his time with the White Sox and Cleveland makes his career nearly whole. Most notably, he now joins the 2,000 hit club by adding his 79 from 1946 through 1948 to the 1,963 hits he accumulated in the American League.
This shift in designation doesn’t completely patch up the start to Miñoso’s career. Negro League seasons were about half as long as their MLB counterparts, so the lack of games made it hard for him to get started on his counting stats. He also played just nine major-league games in 1949 and zero in 1950 during his transition into integrated ball. He finally arrived in MLB for good in 1951, when he should’ve won the Rookie of the Year award over the Yankees’ Gil McDougal. Ideally, Miñoso wouldn’t have encountered that jarring shift, because ideally Chicago baseball would have been desegregated before 1951. Elevating and equating the pre-integration records only can solve so much of the issues posed by the environment, but it’s literally the best that can be done, and he and his colleagues deserve at least that much.
While this recategorization of the Negro Leagues probably would have happened at some point, the combination of the centennial of the Negro National League and an official season of only 60 games made it easier to grasp. The result is the best news Rob Manfred has delivered in quite some time.
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.”
As always, consider a donation to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
This is great news. The Negro League Museum has long been at the top of my list for travel destinations in the US. I just have to convince my wife that Kansas City makes for a great vacation…
The WWI museum is incredible, as is the Harry Truman library. The Plaza’s a good walk. KC is great.
The Linda Hall Library is one of the great libraries devoted to science and technology studies. Not sure when it will reopen, but the grounds are pretty.
It will be interesting to see the effect on the record book. Perhaps it will be small at the top. As you say, the seasons weren’t as long and most of these players didn’t have MLB careers to fold into their Negro League numbers.
Long overdue. It’s a happy, happy day. These men (and women) deserve to have their stories fully told and recognized.
Good. Overdue, but good. I will be curious to see how this reclassification affects the way the Hall of Fame’s committees treat players whose careers were partially or totally shaped by baseball’s apartheid.
While Rob Manfred is attending to matters of systemic racism in the sport he oversees, he might read Bob Nightengale’s interview with Kenny Williams on the continuing dismal hiring practices of baseball teams.
It’s not impossible to change hiring practices. Having and enforcing best hiring practices happens in other industries and can happen in professional sports. The NFL’s Rooney Rule is the most widely-cited example in American professional sports, and it recently was revised due to a lack of progress in recent hires. The NBA has made an effort to ensure more women are hired as coaches, referees, and front office staff across the league. MLB is slower on the uptake, and recognizing historical injustices is not simply about giving recognition to the players of 80 years ago but also working to make sure the game today is less exclusionary on its fields and in its offices.
The only thing blunting the impact of Williams’ words is that his boss ignored the Selig Rule to hire Tony La Russa, with Willie Harris’ name dropped for cover afterward.
Agreed, and certainly the reporter on this story was not going to be the one to point that out. Whether that issue was raised behind closed doors — or whether Williams felt comfortable raising the issue at that time — is not one we’ll learn about anytime soon. His words give an accurate representation of MLB’s employment practices, including at 35th and Shields.
That seems like a tough scenario to account for though. There will be cases where an owner has his heart set on a candidate, no matter how misguided that might be. Can an honest to goodness search be forced on an organization when it isn’t planned? Or is there some kind of value to going through a kind of charade if it isn’t?
That’s always the question. It can be written off on an individual level, but when the same lack-of-a-search is repeated across 30 teams and decision-makers hire friends or those within their networks, the effect is the effect.
I should also mention that the NHL’s efforts to hire more women have had tangible results, including in the new Seattle Kraken franchise. Today, Chicago’s hockey team hired Jaime Faulkner as its new president.
b) Does this make Josh Gibson the career home run leader?
Nope. He only hit 238 of them, albeit with a .690 slugging percentage.
Satchel Paige’s will probably be the most instructive to watch being merged.
He posted a 3.29 ERA (129 ERA+) over 179 games, most of which were relief appearances, starting two days after his 42nd birthday. Seamheads has him at 115-62 with a 2.36 ERA and a 1.70 ERA+ over his Negro League career.
Roy Campanella is another one, because his record shows him making his first appearances in his age-15 season.
Jim, you mentioned Minõso in your post, but are there others you think this changes the HOF candidacy for?
That could be a great topic for a podcast. Not sure if Jay Jaffe is available these days, but he could be a good guest on the topic.
I should have read closer into what games were counting. Makes sense all the barn-storming dingers wouldn’t be official. Thanks.
Perhaps Ernie Banks surpasses Eddie Mathews, Ted Williams, Frank Thomas and Willie McCovey on the all-time home run list?
Looks like Banks debuted in 1950, so his Negro League stats are after the window of eligibility.
I’m a bit late to the game here, but this article I think expresses an important perspective and fair criticism of how the MLB is framing this move:
MLB elevating the status of Negro Leagues is the problem, not the solution
Some other key things to consider:
-The Negro leagues were never truly integrated, the best talent was just poached by MLB teams. As a result, MLB ownership today is overwhelmingly white and corporate (I think the only latino owner is Arte Moreno). – mentioned in the article
-Black players discouraged from playing catcher, meaning that there are fewer considered for managerial openings.
-The dearth of black executives, which starts with who gets hired on as interns and junior scouts or analysts.
I can see it. The word “gratifying” is weird, at least among people who weren’t doing the work to present as complete a historical record as possible. It makes sense to be suspicious that the league might try using this as a way to diminish the effects of segregation, rather than considering it merely the ending of the insult of regarding the Negro Leagues as minor.