The Negro Leagues Become Official

Finally, the Major Leagues did something they should have done a long time ago. They decided to declare the Negro Leagues “Major.” Damned nice of them, don’t you think?

As usual, I have a number of questions. The obvious first is “what took so long?” I know it’s something of an unfair question because it took until the 1970s to decided that Negro League players of officials could take a spot in the Hall of Fame. And considering how long segregation went on 50 years (from the 1970s) isn’t really all that long. I admit to being of two minds about this. I’m very happy that guys like Dick Lundy and Heavy Johnson are now considered “Major Leaguers.” But I wonder if it will diminish the uniqueness of what happened to them. Remember, integrating the Dodgers in 1946 drove a stake through the heart of the existing Negro Leagues, leading ultimately to their demise. I wonder how much this decision will simply fold the Negro Leagues into the larger embrace of the other Major Leagues and they will be seen as a curiosity rather than as something that was separate by design. I hope it will inspire a new spate of Negro League research. I hope the Hall of Fame will enlarge their display at Cooperstown. I don’t know that it will, but I can hope.

There are a couple of problems that arise from this. First, MLB decided to include those leagues (eight of them) that existed from 1920 on and left out all the leagues prior. That doesn’t do much good for players like Bud Fowler or George Stovey who were done in the Nineteenth Century. At least Frank Grant managed to make the Hall of Fame without playing in the post-1920 leagues. I wonder if the black players, like Fowler, Stovey, or the Walker brothers, will now be totally forgotten except by a handful of screwballs like me who study them.

Also, I wonder how or if they are going to integrate the statistics. Just to give you two examples to chew on I present Larry Doby and Minnie Minoso. gives Doby’s total number of Major League hits at 1515. Seamheads (the best available spot for finding Negro League stats) gives him 180 hits in the Negro Leagues. The 1515 makes Doby tied, on the Major Leagues all-time hit list, at 626. Add in 180 and he stands at 1695, good for 469th all-time. For Minoso the same numbers are 1963 and 158 for a total of 2121. Currently, Minoso stands 303rd on the MLB list (in a 3 way time). The number 2121 moves him to 223. So how is MLB going to present this? Will there be one combined number or will they retain two separate numbers? And don’t forget that the Negro League numbers stand a good chance of changing, sometimes significantly, with further research. As statistics mean so much to baseball and to fans, MLB needs to decide how they are going to handle this.

I feel this was way overdue, but I acknowledge that there are problems that will develop in doing this. I’m sorry the second is true. I’m glad the decision was made.

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