On December 16, 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) made an announcement that will literally change historical records: it is reclassifying the Negro Leagues as equal to the major leagues.
Background on the Negro Leagues
Founded one hundred years ago in 1920, the Negro Leagues consisted of seven leagues. In 1947 Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming MLB’s first Black player. The Negro Leagues dissolved shortly after that. The MLB will now include records from Negro League games played between 1920 and 1948, covering approximately 3,400 Negro League players.
The Elias Sports Bureau, the keeper of MLB’s official statistics, will work with MLB to review the Negro League records and make the necessary adjustments to MLB’s overall statistical records.
How does this change how we understand history? Baseball fans are already speculating that Josh Gibson (widely considered the best-ever Negro League slugger) might beat out Hugh Duffy for the best single-season batting average.
While welcoming the MLB announcement, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick emphasized that “It gives greater context to the Negro Leagues in a quantifiable way, as opposed to the lore and legend that sometimes drives this story. But I can tell you this: For those who called the Negro Leagues home, they never questioned their own validity.”
This quote reminded me of a paragraph about Jackie Robinson in the book White Fragility:
“Robinson is often celebrated as the first African American to break the color line and play in major-league baseball. While Robinson was certainly an amazing baseball player, this story line depicts him as racially special, a black man who broke the color line himself. The subtext is that Robinson finally had what it took to play with whites, as if no black athlete before him was strong enough to compete at that level.”
A more historically accurate depiction of Robinson, the paragraph goes on to say, would be “the first black man whites allowed to play major-league baseball.”
HistoryIT’s Role in Saving Baseball History
In 2015-2016 HistoryIT partnered with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to digitally preserve the Negro Leagues collections. You can check them out here. We are proud to be a part of sharing these important stories with the public. Our particular favorites were the scrapbooks, including one on Jackie Robinson that contains one of baseball’s most famous photos – Robinson shaking hands with teammate George Shuba.
HistoryIT salutes the MLB’s long-overdue decision to recognize the Negro Leagues as on par with their American and National League counterparts.