Major League Baseball announced that “Major League” status has been officially conferred upon the Negro Leagues. As per the league’s press release….
“During this year’s centennial celebration of the founding of the Negro Leagues, MLB is proud to highlight the contributions of the pioneers who played in these seven distinct leagues from 1920-1948. With this action, MLB seeks to ensure that future generations will remember the approximately 3,400 players of the Negro Leagues during this time period as Major League-caliber ballplayers. Accordingly, the statistics and records of these players will become a part of Major League Baseball’s history.”
The league’s decision is a welcome one, and as the press release itself stated, it corrects “a longtime oversight” within the sport’s official history. Other leagues that weren’t part of what we recognize as Major League Baseball (such as 19th century leagues like the American Association or the Players’ League) have long been included within MLB’s official statistical record, and players in those leagues have been considered Major Leaguers.
Now, that same distinction can be used to cover the thousands of players who took the field for the seven leagues in question — the Eastern Colored League, the American Negro League, the East-West League, the Negro Southern League, the Negro American League, and the two separate incarnations of the Negro National League.
“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,” commissioner Rob Manfred said in the league statement. “We are now grateful to count the players of the Negro Leagues where they belong: as Major Leaguers within the official historical record.”
This means that such legendary figures as Oscar Charleston, Pop Lloyd, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson, and Josh Gibson can now properly be considered as Major League players, to go along with their status as Baseball Hall Of Famers and all-time greats of the sport.
Beyond the overdue moral justice of today’s announcement, the statistical element is also fascinating for lovers of baseball’s record book. Researchers and historians have long worked to uncover and chronicle Negro League statistics from a variety of news sources from the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s, and according to the press release, “MLB and the Elias Sports Bureau have begun a review process to determine the full scope of this designation’s ramifications on statistics and records.”