More than 3,400 players from seven leagues that operated from 1920 to 1948 will now be considered major leaguers in a move that will shake up the record books.
The Negro leagues have a rich and celebrated history. With a number of the leagues’ players in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and widespread acknowledgment that stars like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson would easily have dominated had their primes come in the integrated era, the leagues have often been viewed as akin to the major leagues of their time.
On Wednesday, Major League Baseball made that official, with Commissioner Rob Manfred declaring that seven Negro leagues that operated between 1920 and 1948 would be recognized as official major leagues, with their records and statistics counted in baseball’s record books.
“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.”
The news was met with enthusiasm from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., though Bob Kendrick, the museum’s president, pointed out that the leagues were already legitimate to the people who played in them.
“For historical merit, today it is extraordinarily important,” Kendrick said in a statement. “Having been around so many of the Negro League players, they never looked to Major League Baseball to validate them. But for fans and for historical sake, this is significant — it really is.”
The leagues that have been elevated to official major league status are the Negro National League (I) (1920-31); the Eastern Colored League (1923-28); the American Negro League (1929); the East-West League (1932); the Negro Southern League (1932); the Negro National League (II) (1933-48); and the Negro American League (1937-48). Those leagues produced 35 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, including Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell, Paige and Gibson.
The announcement called attention to the work of the historian Larry Lester, a co-founder of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, as well as Gary Ashwill, Scott Simkus, Mike Lynch and Kevin Johnson for their construction of the Negro Leagues Database, which is the most complete statistical record of the leagues.
The first step in merging the record books will be a thorough review of available information by the Elias Sports Bureau, keeper of M.L.B.’s official statistics. Its findings could result in several records changing, and could affect the career totals for any players who appeared in both the Negro leagues and the National League or the American League — a group that includes players like Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Paige.