MLB

Major leaguers praise inclusion of Negro Leagues statistics into major league records

Nearly 75% of the available records have been included, according to MLB, and additional research could lead to more changes to the major league leaderboards.

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Buck Leonard. Charlie “Chino” Smith. Turkey Stearnes.

Baseball players and fans alike are learning more about the Negro Leagues after the statistics for more than 2,300 players — historic figures like Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Satchel Paige and Mule Suttles — were incorporated into the major league record book following a three-year research project.

“You get to learn about a lot of names and a lot of people that we may not have heard about,” Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen said Wednesday. “Now that Josh Gibson is at the top of OPS and batting average and a few other categories, it’s great news. But it’s more than just that and the numbers. It’s great that you now get to learn about the players in the Negro Leagues. ... I’ll be able to do some more deep diving into some names that I may not have heard of.”

A 17-person committee chaired by John Thorn, Major League Baseball's official historian, met six times as part of the meticulous process of examining statistics from seven Negro Leagues from 1920-1948. Nearly 75% of the available records have been included, according to MLB, and additional research could lead to more changes to the major league leaderboards.

“It is really exciting,” Cincinnati Reds pitcher Hunter Greene said. “I’m going to have to do a little bit more research and understand some of the history to kind of rewire my brain on some of the best players.”

Gibson became the majors' career leader with a .372 batting average, surpassing Ty Cobb’s .367. Gibson’s .466 average for the 1943 Homestead Grays became the season record, followed by Smith’s .451 for the 1929 New York Lincoln Giants.

The mighty Gibson also became the career leader in slugging percentage (.718) and OPS (1.177), moving ahead of Babe Ruth (.690 and 1.164).

“Baseball history is a part of U.S. history, and I think (the) major leagues acknowledging and incorporating the Negro Leagues is a huge step in kind of bringing all the parts of baseball history together,” said Tyrus Cobb, Ty Cobb's great grandson. “And I think it's actually pretty exciting that there's a new statistical batting average leader.”

After he saw the news, Tyrus Cobb, 32, of San Jose, California, said he took a closer look at Gibson's career.

“I made sure to look up him and Oscar Charleston and some of the other guys who finished up near the top of the list,” said Cobb, who works in commercial real estate. “So I think it's a really exciting thing for baseball history.”

The incorporation of Negro League statistics also changed the numbers of handful of players known more for their major league career.

Willie Mays added 10 hits from the 1948 Birmingham Black Barons, increasing his total to 3,293. Minnie Minoso was credited with 150 hits for the New York Cubans from 1946-1948, boosting his total to 2,113. Jackie Robinson, who broke the majors' color barrier with the 1947 Dodgers, was credited with 49 hits with the 1945 Kansas City Monarchs that increased his total to 1,567.

“It is a good thing for the game,” Washington Nationals pitcher Josiah Gray said. “For the Negro League players in the past who were exceptional for what they did, it is good to be drawn into the light. It is really cool to see Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston and a lot of other names that baseball fans can learn about and for them to see there was more than major league baseball back then."

The change comes with the majors experiencing a decline in Black players. A study by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at Central Florida found Black or African American players represented 6.2% of players on opening-day rosters in 2023, down from 7.2% in 2022. Both figures were the lowest since the study began in 1991, when 18% of MLB players were Black.

The St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants play a tribute game to the Negro Leagues on June 20 at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

“I think it’s a pretty cool thing that you show recognition," Giants pitcher Jordan Hicks said. “It was two different leagues, but it’s still baseball at the end of the day, and then whenever they came together, you saw the guys that stood out in the Negro Leagues really performed in MLB. So I think it’s fair that if they were still the same guy in the Negro Leagues as they were in MLB, those stats should match up, especially if it was in the same era.”

Brett Tinker, 56, of Nyack, New York, heard stories about the Negro Leagues from his grandfather, Harold “Hooks” Tinker, a Birmingham, Alabama, native, who played for the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Harold Tinker shared his love for the sport. He told his grandson about how they often had to stay on the team bus because they couldn't go into a hotel, and he also showed off his memorabilia collection.

When Brett Tinker heard about the incorporation of the Negro League statistics, he was moved to tears.

“It's an honor. It's overdue, not just for my grandfather, but a lot of those players who never had that chance to have that recognition,” he said.

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AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum, AP Sports Writer Beth Harris, and freelance reporters Dana Gauruder, Ben Ross, Bill Trocchi and Gary Schatz contributed to this report.

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