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What does the integration of the Negro League into the MLB historical record mean for MLB? | Baseball Bar-B-Cast

Yahoo Sports senior MLB analyst Jake Mintz and national MLB insider Russell Dorsey break down the details of the Negro League officially being integrated into the MLB historical record and what it means for MLB moving forward. Hear the full conversation on the “Baseball Bar-B-Cast” podcast - and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen.

Video Transcript

So let's talk about the story you wrote yesterday up at Yahoo Sports, a lot of original information in here, Russ, the Negro Leagues have been officially integrated into the MLB historical record.

The we first caught wind of this news a couple of years ago, MLB announced that it was going to be starting this process.

This news today represents the end of that process.

So could you do me a favor and explain to me and to all the listeners what exactly was announced this week?

Yeah.

Uh Well, today, actually, day of this recording, MLB will be announcing that Negro League stats will officially be integrated into the MLB historical record, meaning that stats from over 2300 players who played in the Negro Leagues from 1920 to 1948 in the seven different iterations of the Negro Leagues.

Those stats will now be officially included in MLB databases.

So this means that what I reported yesterday that Josh Gibson becomes the MLB single season, uh leader or record holder in batting average, slug and ops, he's also the career leader in all three categories.

Um It's huge news, right?

Because baseball is a sport that has been around for a long time that doesn't come with a lot of changes when it comes to stuff like this.

And I think one of the questions that I tried to answer in the story is, well, what does this mean?

How does this happen?

And something that you and I have talked about briefly of, well, how do you all of a sudden say these numbers are now major league records?

Well, there was a committee in 1969 a special committee in 1969 that went through, looked at the history of major league baseball and said that what had become at the time and now the national league, the American League, uh the players league, the uh Federal League and the American Association, uh would all be considered major leagues, meaning that the numbers, the records and statistics from all of those seasons, whether it was uh the Federal league, the Players League, the American Association, all these old time when you see, uh Larry O Holihan who hit 495 for the Cleveland Spiders, those records counted towards MLB record books.

And so for the people that were like, how, how can Josh Gibson lead?

This isn't, this wasn't major league baseball.

Well, neither was Hugh Duffy.

And people ask who was Hugh Duffy?

Hugh Duffy was the single season leader in batting average up until yesterday, hit 440 in 1894 and was playing in he played in the National League for both Chicago franchises at the time, he played in the American Association, the Players Association or the, yeah, the Players Association.

So like he could also be considered somebody who never played major league baseball or played in both major league baseball and the league of his time.

Does that not count?

Well, it does because he was already and him and others were are already in the leader boards in major league baseball.

So all that was happening, then you get the question of how do you quantify these numbers?

Right?

Because as many people know what matters and what doesn't, right?

Like, I think, I think when you look at Negro League seasons that were usually between 6080 games and then they would have like another 60 to 80 games of exhibitions or what's been known as barnstorming, right?

Where if you look on Josh Gibson's plaque at the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, it says he hit nearly 800 home runs right now.

The cool part about the Negro Leagues is that the oral history of them is really makes them stand out and makes players like Josh Gibson larger than life.

And then we have the box scores and information and data and clippings from old newspapers to bring those even more to life where it's like, oh, this isn't just some mythical figure.

This was a real dude, obviously, pictures, et cetera.

That was like a man amongst boys.

Um but those records, when you, when talking to John Thorne, who is major league baseball's uh official historian and also the chair of the Negro League Statistical Review Committee.

He said we couldn't take anecdotal evidence and use that for this.

Like we needed box scores.

We needed data information that was had, obviously, it's hard to get some of that information because some of it's been lost, some of it hasn't been recovered yet.

And he did acknowledge that as more information turns up more data is found.

More box words are found, they will continue to update and adjust.

But he said they used data that was from what they considered league play.

So those 60 to 80 games of official Negro Leagues games and that is what is included now in the MLB database.

Got it.

A couple of different things come to mind first is I got bad news for, for Racists out there and that is that two black guys are already broke.

Yeah, I'm sure they are two black guys actually already broke Babe Ruth's record for home runs.

So that ship has sailed and so you can keep uh you can keep all that vitriol in your, in your pocket, please.

Um I have to say I have a couple questions that come to mind and I am confused about a number of things and you know, I know that you did not sit on the MLB committee that decided to do this, but you reported it.

And so hopefully you can help me kind of parse through something.

The idea of a major league versus major league baseball is something that I don't totally understand.

Right.

So I would say that major league baseball, the organization, as we think of it is the American League and it is the national league.

And those two leagues since 1903, I believe are the, that is major league baseball, the federal league which came out, came up in the 1914, 1516, around that time that was never officially integrated into major league baseball, but it is still considered a major league, right?

And so I'm, I'm struggling through the terminology here because like Josh Gibson never played in major league baseball.

So how can he be the all time leader in a category in the major league baseball rulebook?

It almost feels to me like we need a separate like terminology here to simplify what we're talking about.

So let's go back to the 1969 review committee that they had when they decided that National League American League and the Federal League, the Players League American Association would all be considered or given Major League status.

When that happened, the in accordance to those rules, they said that no asterisk or special category would be given to those leagues, which is why Hugh Duffy's 440 batting average for the Boston Reds stood for years since, well, I say including since 1969 as the single season leader in batting average in Big League in Major League history.

Um because of that ruling the Negro League statistical review committee and I imagine that comes out later today when it's officially announced is that they stood by that, that no asterisk, no special category or separation should be given to the Negro Leagues.

If that same uh thing wasn't included for the other leagues that were given Major League status in 1969 they felt like it wouldn't be right to do it for the Negro Leagues and not do it for those other leagues that had been given Major League status in 1969.

Got it.

That makes more sense to me.

My next question is very vague.

What you wrote and reported yesterday was very informative.

However, you did not share your opinion in this because you are, you're a reporter and in this context, you are not a columnist, but I would like your opinion on it.

You know, the very vague big picture question is, is this good?

Now?

It is obviously much more complicated than that, right?

I remember when this news first came out, Jordan and I had, uh, our mutual friend in front of the program, Clinton Yates on to talk about it.

And at the time, Clinton was very off put by the idea that the Negro League somehow needed major league baseball to recognize it in order to gain legitimacy, that the existence of the Negro Leagues was only made necessary because major league baseball did not let black players play until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

And so why, why is MLB the all powerful deciding body here that, you know, created the problem in the first place?

Right?

But on the flip side, I would imagine that any type of assistance or acknowledgment or uh from major league baseball allows the Negro Leagues to be understood and uh by, by, by a larger audience of people, right?

So there are kind of two sides of the conversation.

I'm curious where you land on it.

Um You know, when reporting something like this out, you don't really allow yourself time to give your, what do I think about this?

You know, you have passing thoughts of, huh?

That's interesting.

Oh, I never thought of it this way.

Um So in you asking me this and I had the benefit of you telling me that you were going to ask me this before we jumped on, I feel like baseball is a sport where history is really important.

I also feel like when you try to tell the story of baseball and I don't mean major league baseball, I mean, the history of the game of baseball.

If you try to tell that without telling the story of the Negro Leagues as well, you paint an incomplete picture what I feel has happened in the last 24 hours is that you're starting to see a and I mentioned this in the video that you see in my story, a more complete and broad picture of the history of major or the history of baseball and by major league baseball saying that we're going to because I feel like this is what they feel like I don't think they were trying to say, oh yeah, they need us.

I think they feel like they're trying to right or wrong where they do feel like Negro League should have been included in that 1969 review uh by that committee that included literally every other league that existed as having major league status, but the Negro Leagues wasn't, weren't included in that.

Uh It is the right of a wrong and do I feel like this is the right thing I do in the sense of you have to be able to tell full stories in history.

This isn't saying that the black players weren't allowed to play in major league baseball because they weren't, uh this isn't saying uh that the Negro Leagues is a lesser league.

This isn't saying that the Negro Leagues needs major league baseball, but I think this is major league baseball acknowledging like, no, this is something that should have happened a long time ago.

And I think this is the Russell Dorsey side of it.

I like the fact that you're always gonna have new baseball fans, their kids born every day in this world that are gonna grow up loving baseball.

And I talked to Bob Kendrick yesterday and he said that part of what makes this big for him is that you have younger fans that are learning about the Negro Leagues for the first time.

And he mentioned the inclusion in of the Negro Leagues in MLB the show.

And he said, what we are seeing is that you have the Negro League is now becoming part of a mainstream voice.

It's been given a mainstream voice and what he feels they are finding is that not only are young fans learning about the Negro Leagues, there's this growing love for the Negro Leagues and he said that's all they've wanted since the beginning with him being one of the biggest advocates for the Negro Leagues, president of the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City.

So I think that's the important part for me.

And what I think is this a good or bad thing?

Because I had a lot of people hit me less.

They're like, oh, is this a good thing?

Is this a bad thing?

I think it's a good thing from the standpoint of telling a complete history is always going to be the right thing.

Well, you're gonna have people go to leader boards and they're gonna see, you know, Josh Gibson Mule Subtles and they're gonna say, what is it?

Who is that right?

And then they're going to go on Google or youtube and look things up and learn.

And I think that you're right, that is a positive development.

And I think the idea that the, it, what, what really interests me about the Negro Leagues is the balance between myth and fact.

And so much of what makes the Negro Leagues very special and beautiful is the myth of it is the, the mystery of the feats that these guys were accomplishing.

But the only reason that that mystery and that myth has to exist like that in the first place is because these guys weren't playing on TV, or on the radio to the same extent and didn't have the same level of, of bookkeeping or stat keeping that, you know, major league baseball did because they had less money to play with and less institutional organization because of racism and segregation in America.

But at the same time, like the having all these facts now in some ways chips away at the myth that we have built up about some of these players.

But I think what I found most beautiful about what came out is that it reinforces some of the myth, dude.

Like we had this idea that, you know, Josh Gibson was one of the greatest players of all time.

Guess what numbers back that up?

I I'm, I'm with you and I think the, you look at a picture of Josh Gibson and he has massive forearms.

He looks like a man child.

Like he, like, you, you hear 800 home runs and then you see him.

You're like, yeah.

Yeah, that tracks like that.

That makes sense.

Um, but no, I, I think the, the, and this was something talking to our good friend Clinton Yates who is getting a lot of love in this podcast.

Um, yesterday he said one of the cool parts is the journalism that had to be, that had to happen for this to even be a thing.

Like you're talking about decades and decades of research, uh, people who've made it, their lives work to find out as much as they can about the Negro Leagues and all that information is coming together.

It's, it's not just the research that's being done, obviously, that's really important and a big part of this, but it's all the people who are doing really important advocacy over the years to hold MLB S feet to the fire and say this is something that you need to do that should be done that deserves to be done, right?

And I think that there are people who are doing important journalism that if they had not done that this would not have happened for another couple of decades, even for sure.

But I'm, I'm saying that like, yeah, advocacy for this to happen without the people going and finding the data to even have and say, hey, this is, this is the information that, that should be in the database is super important.

Like you're talking about things that go back over 100 years that had to be found and dug up because there's only about the, the record or the Negro League statistics are about 75% complete.

That means that there's another 25% out there that hasn't been found yet.

Some might never be found, who knows.

But I think the fact that 75% of the data has been, we think has been found.

It's a really big deal.

And I think there are a lot of people who we'll sit back today and, and say, man, we did a lot of good work that there everybody knows.

Cool, Papa Bell, right?

People know Josh Gibson.

People know Satchel Paige, but there are several Negro League legends who may have not have gotten their day right now.

They get their day where people are gonna learn about them in various ways uh Over the years now.