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Josh Gibson’s MLB inclusion means more stories to tell at Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

As if Josh Gibson’s status isn’t elevated enough by baseball’s decision to integrate Negro Leagues statistics into MLB record books, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick offered an observation.

“I’m not one to say, ‘I told you,’ but I’ve been telling folks for the longest time that in my own humble opinion Josh Gibson was the greatest baseball player to ever put on a uniform,” Kendrick said.

With the official merging of the numbers, Gibson becomes baseball’s career leader in batting average at .372, surpassing Ty Cobb’s .367. Gibson’s .466 batting average for the Homestead Grays in 1943 becomes the new standard. He also passed Babe Ruth to become the single-season leader in slugging and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS).

Kendrick didn’t need statistical validation of his opinion, but as of Wednesday, he has it. MLB announced in December 2020 that it would add Negro Leagues statistics, and John Thorn, MLB’s official historian, chaired a 17-person committee that included Kendrick.

The group combed through decades of Negro Leagues box scores, and Thorn estimated that 72% of Negro Leagues records from 1920-1948 were included. There was a four home run game by Gibson that wasn’t included because it could not be verified. The committee will continue its research.

There won’t be new leaders on lists like home runs, runs batted in and pitching victories in a season or career because the Negro Leagues didn’t play as many games in a season as the National and American Leagues.

For instance, Gibson, who played for the Memphis Red Sox, Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays, never appeared in more than 69 games in a season, according to the research. His high season home run total was 20 in 1937 and 1943, when he won Negro Leagues triple crowns.

“There was an economic impact felt by the Negro Leagues, so the seasons were much shorter,” Kendrick said. “From a career numbers standpoint may in the eyes of some diminish some of these players unless you truly understand how to delve deeper into the statistical data.”

Kendrick said he’s heard and read where some won’t acknowledge statistics from the Negro Leagues.

“There is still a cross section of those who will never accept that this alternative league was a good as its counterpart league,” Kendrick said. “Perhaps it is part of the racial narrative that is still prevalent in our country. ... I don’t care what I say or what I do or what these numbers present, they’re just not going to accept it.

“In their minds there’s just no way that Josh Gibson’s batting average could be better than Ty Cobb’s.”

But Kendrick also invites skeptics to the museum in Kansas City, where he’ll often conduct tours and provide history lessons. Major-league teams often pass through when playing in Kansas City. The Chiefs rookie class recently visited the museum.

Now, there will be new stories to tell, ones that include new statistical leaders.

“You no longer have to take my word for it,” Kendrick said. ”No matter where Josh Gibson played, Josh Gibson hit. He lit everybody up. He was equal opportunity. He didn’t discriminate who he beat up on. He beat up on the pitchers in the Negro Leagues. ... He beat up on major league pitchers in countless exhibition games. So his game will now resonate, in a mainstream capacity and puts him where I think he deserves.”