Josh Gibson sitting on a bench in his Homestead Grays uniform.

The Negro Major Leagues and MLB History

Leave it to Major League Baseball to cause me to take a break from school and write about unaffiliated baseball again. Whenever MLB involves themselves with the Negro Leagues in any fashion, I am interested in some way. When it’s the Negro major leagues that MLB is specifically getting involved with then my brow is instantly furrowed. In this instance, I’m referring to the Tuesday, May 29th decision to officially include Negro major leagues statistics in their MLB record book. It’s a decision worthy of digging into, for a variety of reasons.

First things first, MLB is not the arbiter of baseball history. My stance on that has been well documented on this site and any of the places I’ve also written about baseball over the years. MLB is a professional baseball organization. It is a collection of leagues that cares about its own interests first and foremost. They do not get to decide what is and isn’t a major league or what statistics are and aren’t major league statistics. They certainly have the right to decide what statistics they will include in their own record books, but the MLB record books are not the record books for the major leagues. At its base level MLB’s decision to include Negro major leagues statistics in with their own doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is acting like this is what makes them major.

I’m not going to get into specifics about why I’m bothered by MLB acting like the Negro major leagues need their recognition to be seen as major leagues. I’ve written about that plenty in the past and that is not the main driver of the article I am writing today. Rather, I want to get into the specifics of this announcement and the reaction from many baseball fans. Note I’m saying fans, because while I don’t think every historian or writer is seeing the whole picture, they don’t appear to be, in what I have read at least, rebelling against the inclusion of the Negro major leagues for faulty and/or racist reasons.

Make no mistake about it, there has been a high level of backlash against MLB’s inclusion of Negro major leagues stats in their record books. The easiest naysaying to dismiss is the position of ignorance. It is usually grounded in racism and tomfoolery. Anyone who can look at the caliber of ballplayers who competed in the Negro major leagues and argue that they were inferior to their white counterparts is dabbling in racism, overtly or otherwise. Reading statements like, “This is woke nonsense. The only reason MLB is doing this is to pander to liberals to hurt their own history.” That statement is oozing with racism and ignorance, and if you spend any amount of time in the toxic online baseball atmosphere you will come across statements like it on the regular.

Then there is the argument that the Negor major leagues weren’t MLB therefore they don’t belong. That’s a lazy argument that ignores MLB’s own history. The Negro major leagues aren’t the first non-MLB leagues that MLB has included in their record books. If you are advocating that the Negro major leagues need to be removed from MLB’s record books because they weren’t MLB leagues then I hope you’re making the same argument against MLB’s inclusion of the Federal League, American Association, Players’ League, and Union Association statistics. The proof is in the pudding folks, MLB set the precedent decades ago when they decided to include more than just the statistics from the American League and National League.

Moving the focus away from MLB for a second, what does this decision say about the Negro major leagues and its players? I’d argue that it doesn’t say anything. Any baseball historian worth their salt has recognized the Negro major leagues as being the major leagues they are for some time now. MLB’s decision brings more notoriety to the Negro major leagues, and that’s never a bad thing. But, it doesn’t suddenly mean Jud Wilson is a major leaguer, he was a major leaguer the moment he stepped onto the field in a Negro major league. The legacy of the Negro major leagues is their own, they do not need to be validated by recognition from MLB or any other organization.

The Negro major leagues were major leagues. I’ve been beating that drum for years now, MLB’s announcement doesn’t change that. Hopefully, what it does accomplish is to force changes in other areas. If this leads to MLB broadcasts no longer ignoring Negro major league stats in their “first player to blank since blank” prompts and other assorted tidbits then that’s great. If it took this announcement to cause the major baseball stat sites (outside of Baseball Reference which has included Negro major leagues in their major league stats for a few years now) to include Negro major leagues stats in their major league stats that is both a good thing and a damning condemnation of their unwillingness to change until their hand was forced. At the end of the day, MLB can include whatever stats they want in their record books. I’m glad they’ve included the Negro major leagues, but MLB’s recognition is not what made those leagues legitimate or major. Don’t let the ignorant and those who fear change fool you, MLB is simply catching up with the times and acknowledging that the accomplishments of the Negro major leagues matter just as much as any other major league.

Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Big Six Sports

Liked it? Take a second to support Words Above Replacement on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!
Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *