Team photo of the Birmingham Black Barons

What is a Stathead?

A few weeks back Baseball Reference unveiled their newest invention, Stathead. This will be replacing Play Index as the site’s premier search engine. Almost unanimously this news was met with welcome arms. This is understandable, but all the same, I think there is one key area where Stahead comes up woefully short; Negro Leagues integration.

Before we get into the nitty and gritty of my issue with Stathead and Baseball Reference in general; the positives. Stathead operates much the same as Play Index only in a broader and better scope. If you are looking to conduct detailed statistical research into the leagues that fall under the Major League Baseball umbrella then Stathead is an excellent continuation of Play Index. Most of the superlatives one would toss Play Index’s way are just as applicable to Stathead. Perhaps best of all, Stathead is its own site within Baseball Reference. That removes the issue of finding it and makes utilization of its features much easier than was the case with Play Index.

There isn’t any true bad when it comes to Stathead’s functionality. The site is what it wants to be and baseball fans are going to love the site for that very reason. My issue with Stathead is what my issue with Baseball Reference continues to be: it’s not everything it could be. Specifically, Stathead continues the practice of not recognizing the Negro major leagues within its search function. This was troubling with Play Index and is even more troubling now that Play Index has been revamped and the Negro major leagues have still been left out in the cold.

The retort to the above will be of the usual variety. Stathead is a search engine for the major leagues and MLB has never recognized the Negro major leagues as major. To that, I say, phooey. Baseball Reference isn’t beholden to MLB or affiliated baseball. They have always had the ability to recognize the Negro major leagues as the major leagues that they are and incorporate them into their statistic based search engines. Sure, you can still search and find Negro Leagues info on the main Baseball Reference site. However, if Baseball Reference, Play Index, and now Stathead are to be believed Josh Gibson never hit a major league home run in his life. That’s not true, and this site has beaten that particular bell to the point it has more cracks than the one found in Philadelphia.

The truth of the matter is that Baseball Reference and its owner, Sean Forman, have the unique opportunity to look MLB in the eyes and tell them, no. Forman and his employees can use Stathead to finally offer the Negro major leagues the inclusiveness that MLB has sought to keep from them to this very day. Official MLB historians are exactly that, historians paid by MLB to put MLB’s spin on history. For the most part they do a commendable job as historians, but they always present history in the manner that most benefits MLB and its actors. Forman is under no such obligations and it is disappointing that he continues to refuse to use his company’s considerable influence and importance within the baseball world to include the Negro major leagues in a major league based search engine.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Stathead subscriber, just as I was a Play Index subscriber. The service is great in its current form, but if the Negro major leagues were included it could finally come closer to being the all-inclusive major league search engine it aims to be. Instead, Statheads continues to focus only on the leagues MLB has deemed as major. The Negro major leagues (which are recognized by numerous non-MLB historians as being just as major as any MLB league) can’t be found within its pages. That doesn’t make Statheads a bad site, but it does make it an incomplete site.

Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Center for Negro League Baseball Research

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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.

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