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Major League Baseball will take a ‘long overdue’ step by folding Black players into its records


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Professional baseball players, fans and team executives obsess about the game's endless statistics. Now that data will be updated in a significant way as Major League Baseball (MLB) prepares to incorporate players and teams from the former Negro Leagues into its historical record as "long overdue recognition." That step just was taken by the most authoritative online site,, which this month dramatically expanded its archive of Black players from an era before first baseman Jackie Robinson integrated MLB in 1947 by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers (now in Los Angeles).

The word "Negro" predates the use of African American and Black. More than 3,400 players participated in seven Negro Leagues from 1920-48. "The Negro Leagues have always been major leagues. We are changing our site's presentation to properly recognize this fact," says Sean Forman, founder and president of Sports Reference, the internet resource. "Our intent is to celebrate the players, teams, and leagues we are adding to our site, as well as to educate our users about the history of these leagues. . . . We have commissioned articles from prominent Negro League historians, family members of Black baseball players and others to explain to our audience the context behind the rise of Black baseball, how it operated, who was involved and its part in the history of the game."

Reliable data is limited, however. Game-by-game stats from the Negro Leagues aren't consistently available, and the Negro Leagues played 50 to 70 games a season — less than half as many as the other major leagues. Moreover, Black ballplayers often took part in unofficial events, such as exhibition games against American and National League players -- which also affects their career statistics.

Other recognition is taking place. Last Saturday, a group called the African American Sports Legends of Northwest Ohio had a ceremony in Toledo to unveil a historic marker commemorating the Toledo Tigers of the Negro National League. At a Seattle Mariners home game that same day, the team saluted the Negro Leagues as part of its Juneteenth celebration. Players wore replicas of the 1946 Seattle Steelheads all-Black team.

Commissioner says: "The Negro Leagues produced many of our game's best players, innovations and triumphs against a backdrop of injustice. We are now grateful to count the players of the Negro Leagues where they belong: as Major Leaguers within the official historical record." -- Rob Manfred, MLB commissioner

Critics says: " I don't think you can retrofit this ... because nobody knows what happened because of the lack of the great record-keeping that you had on the white side of the sport. ... Messing with these numbers now, it looks very distorted." – Howard Bryant, ESPN commentator

National museum: The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is in Kansas City, Mo., where the Negro National League was founded in 1920. The nonprofit organization sends exhibits around the country. "We want [kids] we educate to understand and early on develop tolerance and respect for those who don't look like them," says its president, Bob Kendrick.

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for, Copyright 2021

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