MLB Will Make Negro League Statistics Official in Landmark Decision

In 1969, a special committee on baseball records met to determine which leagues in baseball history, other than the American and National Leagues as we know them today, ought to qualify as “major leagues.”

Only four additional leagues made the cut. None existed after 1915. Worse yet, the decision perpetuated the segregation of Black and white baseball leagues. Excluded from the 1969 committee decision were the Negro Leagues of the 20th century — whose players, games, and statistics were systematically segregated from the all-white AL and NL until Jackie Robinson catalyzed the integration of MLB when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers for the 1947 season.

In Dec. 2020, MLB finally set the record straight: the Negro Leagues were major leagues, with their records to be fully integrated into official canon. From a historical standpoint, it was a long overdue correction to the historical oversight of the 1969 committee.

From a practical standpoint, the task was not as simple as issuing a press release. Many Negro League games were poorly scored, if they were scored at all. The players’ statistical records were incomplete. The question was not if the stats of Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Turkey Stearns, and others would be visible alongside those of Babe Ruth, but when.

Now we have an answer: According to multiple reports, Negro Leagues statistics will officially become part of major league historical record on Wednesday.

KANSAS CITY – 1942. Satchel Paige of the Monarchs talks with Josh Gibson of the Homestead Grays before a game in Kansas City in 1941. Paige and Gibson’s stats from Negro League games will begin…

Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images

The upshot? According to USA Today, which first reported the news Tuesday, Josh Gibson is MLB’s new all-time career leader in batting average (.372, moving ahead of Ty Cobb), slugging percentage (.718, moving ahead of Babe Ruth), OPS (1.177, ahead of Ruth), and holds the all-time single season records in each of those categories.

“When you hear Josh Gibson’s name now, it’s not just that he was the greatest player in the Negro Leagues, but one of the greatest of all time,” Sean Gibson, Gibson’s great grandson, told USA Today. “These aren’t just Negro League stats. They’re major-league baseball stats.”

The new stats reflect those compiled in Negro League games from 1920-48. Among the notable changes, per USA Today:

• Josh Gibson’s .974 slugging percentage in 1937 now ranks first all-time

• Gibson’s .446 batting average in 1943 also ranks first

• Satchel Paige’s 1.01 ERA in 1944 ranks as third-best in history

• Willie Mays now has 3,293 career hits, including his total from 1948 with the Birmingham Black Barons

• Robinson now has 49 more hits, giving him a total of 1,567 in a career that began with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945

More changes are expected to come to the historical records as new statistics are uncovered. Gibson, for example, is credited with “almost 800 home runs” on his Hall of Fame plaque. That includes some homers that were hit during barnstorming tours, but could include stats from Negro League games that will be added to his career totals in the years to come.