MLB combines Negro league statistics, shakes up record books

MLB combines Negro league statistics, shakes up record books

NEW YORK — Josh Gibson became Major League Baseball’s career leader with a .372 batting average, surpassing Ty Cobb’s .367, when the Negro Leagues’ records for more than 2,300 players were combined Tuesday after a three-year research project.

Gibson’s .466 average for the Homestead Grays in 1943 became the seasonal standard, followed by Charlie “Chino” Smith’s .451 for the New York Lincoln Giants in 1929. They were bested by the .440 by Hugh Duffy for Boston’s National League team in 1894.

Gibson also became the career leader in slugging percentage (.718) and OPS (1.177), ahead of Babe Ruth (.690 and 1.164).

“This initiative is focused on ensuring that future generations of fans have access to the statistics and accomplishments of all those who made the Negro Leagues possible,” Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “Their accomplishments on the field will serve as a gateway to broader learning about this triumph in American history and the path that led to Jackie Robinson’s 1947 Dodger debut.”

A special committee on baseball records decided in 1969 to recognize six major leagues dating back to 1876: the National (launched in 1876), the American (1901), the American League (1882-1891), the Union League (1884), and the Players Association (1884). League (1890) and Federal League (1914-1915). The National Assembly (1871-1875) was excluded, citing an “irregular schedule and procedures”.

MLB announced in December 2020 that it would “correct a long oversight” by adding the Negro Leagues. John Thorne, MLB’s official historian, chaired a 17-person committee that included Negro league experts and statisticians.

“The condensed 60-game season for the 2020 calendar year for the National League and American League led us to believe that perhaps shortened Negro League seasons could come under the MLB umbrella, after all,” Thorne said.

An updated version of the MLB database will be published before the St. Louis Cardinals play. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants game honoring the Negro Leagues on June 20 at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

The criteria for season leaders is the same for the Negro Leagues as for other leagues: 3.1 plate appearances or one run for each game played by a player’s team.

Gibson’s slugging percentage of 0.974 in 1937 became the season record, and Barry Bonds’ 0.863 in 2001 fell to fifth place, also trailing Mules Suttles’ 0.877 in 1926, Gibson’s 0.871 in 1943 and Smith’s 0.870 in 1929.

The previous Bond OPS record of 1.421 in 2004 fell to third place behind Gibson’s 1.474 in 1937 and 1.435 in 1943.

Willie Mays had 10 hits for the 1948 Birmingham Black Barons, increasing his total to 3,293. Minnie Minoso had 2,000 hits, credited with 150 for the New York Cubs from 1946 to 1948, raising his total to 2,113.

Robinson, who broke the MLB color barrier with the Dodgers in 1947, had 49 hits with the 1945 Kansas City Monarchs who increased his total to 1,567.

Among pitchers, Satchel Paige has 28 wins, bringing his total to 125.

The committee met six times and addressed issues such as when the league’s aggregate statistics don’t make sense, such as the league having more wins than losses and runs lost. The researchers had to determine whether players with the same name were one person or separate, trace dates of birth, and identify people listed by surnames. Documentation of the transactions and identification of stadiums at a time when neutral sites were often used continues, along with the revelation of statistics for independent teams.

Kevin Johnson and Gary Ashwell, researchers who spent nearly two decades helping compile the Seamheads Negro Leagues database, were included in the project.

Thorne estimated that 72% of Negro league records from 1920 to 1948 were included, and said additional research could lead to future edits. Thorne said that a four-homer game by Gibson in 1938 and a home run by Mays in August 1948 could not be included because complete game accounts have not been found.

“Without scoring goals, we can’t balance the stats,” Johnson said. “Those games are in limbo right now.”

Records include the First Negro National League (1920-1931), Eastern Colored League (1923-1928), Negro American League (1929), East-West League (1932), Negro Southern League (1932), Second Negro National League (1933) – 48) and the Negro American League (1937-1948).

Some details of the game were obtained from newspapers that covered black communities. Complete accounts have been found for about 95 percent of games in the 1920s, but coverage declined during the Great Depression of the 1930s and never fully recovered, Johnson said.

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