The announcement by MLB on Wednesday that the 1920-1948 Negro Leagues would be recognized as major league was very welcome news.
“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.”
But what does this mean exactly?
Professor Lou Moore had a good idea:
Colleague Tom Laforgia had one as well: How about retroactively pay major league salaries to these players and their surviving families?
Baseball is in love with its history, and no sport holds the greats of its past in such reverence. If you asked an NBA fan under 40 to name the top 10 greatest players of all time, you’d be hard-pressed to find many who would include Russell, Chamberlain, Robertson and West. Maybe one or two of them, but all four? No way. George Mikan? Hahahaha.
But ask a baseball fan and they will almost assuredly rattle off 4-5 guys who played 80 to 100 years ago. Ruth, Gehrig, Walter Johnson, Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner. Eddie Collins or Rogers Hornsby might get a mention. Christy Mathewson and Grover Cleveland Alexander. While some people will list Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, or Oscar Charleston, few will mention that the Ruths and Cobbs played in a segregated league and that their records should be viewed with some skepticism. Pretending like those greats of the past played in anything remotely like the competition of integrated leagues does a disservice not only to the Black players who were barred from the majors, but all who followed.
Official Negro League seasons were shorter than MLB seasons, although many Black players ended up playing more games per year than their white counterparts. There were barnstorming tours and winter ball in Cuba.
Josh Gibson has been credited with as many as 800 home runs, but again, most of them were not in league games. It’s very likely Satchel Paige won more games than any pitcher in history. Seamheads.com is doing a great job of tracking down the results and compiling stats for Negro Leaguers, but yes, MLB could throw some resources in tracking down those missing Gibson home runs.
But one thing we do know from Seamheads: Oscar Charleston hit .400 five times, more than any major leaguer. His best mark was .427 in 1925. That would be the “modern-day” record, beating Nap Lajoie’s .426 in 1901. Charleston himself would be delighted to see himself in the record books ahead of Ty Cobb’s best, .419.
Put that .427 on the board, it counts. Put it on baseball cards and have broadcasters talk about it during games.
This is the least baseball can do.