Negro League players receive overdue recognition

Courtesy Photo via MLB.com

New names now grace the Major League Baseball record books, and it’s about time.

On May 29, MLB announced the official inclusion of statistics from the Negro Leagues, adjusting the all-time leaderboards in several categories.

Notably, Homestead Grays catcher Josh Gibson passed Detroit Tigers center fielder Ty Cobb for the top spot as the all-time career leader in batting average. He also surpassed the slugging percentage of New York Yankees right fielder George Herman “Babe” Ruth

As Rachel Treisman reported for NPR, “Gibson’s .372 batting average surpasses Ty Cobb’s .367, and his .718 slugging percentage overtakes Babe Ruth’s .690.”

Gibson is only one of 3,400 Negro League players to be added to the official statistics for MLB. Other greats, such as Kansas City Monarchs pitcher Satchel Paige who is “now ranked third place all-time for earned run average in a single season” according to Kaila Nichols of CNN, are also in the record books.

To honor the Negro Leagues, the St. Louis Cardinals played and beat the San Francisco Giants at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala., on June 20. Rickwood is the oldest professional ballpark in the country and former home of the Birmingham Black Barons.

Getting to watch a game being played at Rickwood was special. Honoring some of the most iconic players in baseball’s history was inspiring, but there was a notable absence.

Willie Mays, the San Francisco Giants center fielder known as the “Say Hey Kid,” died June 18 at 93

Mays played for the Barons early in his career, and his time with that team resulted in an additional 10 hits to his career total, putting him at 3,293 thanks to the adjustments to the MLB’s historical record. 

Though some may not like changing the official standings, they are wrong.

Updating the MLB record books isn’t new, and these latest changes have been in the works for a few years.

On Dec. 16, 2020, MLB announced it would be incorporating Negro League players and statistics into the official history of baseball. In a social media post, MLB said it was “correcting a longtime oversight in the game’s history.”

Exactly.

Though I still believe changing some of the rules was unnecessary and even damaging to the purity of the game, including the accomplishments of the Negro League players makes the historical record more reliable and complete. 

For what it’s worth, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., has been keeping the legacy of these players alive.

Still, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick viewed the statistical integration as important.

“This story is far more grandiose than mere statistics,” he told the Kansas Reflector. “This story, in many ways, is bigger than the game of baseball, even though it is a tiny part of the great story of the game of baseball.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred agreed in a statement on MLB’s website

“Their accomplishments on the field will be a gateway to broader learning about this triumph in American history,” he said.

It should be obvious that our nation’s past transgressions of segregation and treatment of nonwhite individuals were wrong. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did. All we can do is attempt to correct our past misdeeds and move forward avoiding the same pitfalls and actions.

As a society, we have a long way to go, especially in terms of racism existing in our midst.

However, if baseball truly serves as “America’s Pastime,” it must represent all of America. 

Though the act was long overdue, MLB should be applauded for finally giving the game’s trailblazers the recognition they deserve, regardless of race.

Todd R. Vogts, Ph.D., is a native of Canton, a resident of McPherson County, and an assistant professor of media at Sterling College. He can be contacted with questions or comments via his website at www.toddvogts.com.

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About toddvogts 843 Articles
Todd R. Vogts, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of media at Sterling College in Kansas. Previously, he taught yearbook, newspaper, newsmagazine, and online journalism in various Kansas high schools, and he ran a weekly newspaper in rural Kansas. He continues to freelance as a professional journalist from time to time. Also, Vogts is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the Journalism Education Association (JEA), and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), among others. He earned his Master Journalism Educator (MJE) certification from JEA in 2022. When he’s not teaching or writing, he runs his mobile disk jockey service and takes part in other entrepreneurial ventures. He can be reached at twitter.com/toddvogts or via his website at www.toddvogts.com.