HomeTrending MLB NewsAdding Black Stats Not A Good Idea

Adding Black Stats Not A Good Idea

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for recognition of the Negro Leagues, their best teams and biggest stars, and all that black players have accomplished both before and after Jackie Robinson integrated the all-white majors in 1947.

I’ve written two biographies of Hank Aaron – 50 years apart – and was honored that my long-time friend Dusty Baker wrote such a touching and personal forward for the latest one, Home Run King: the Remarkable Record of Hank Aaron.

Since 1957, when Aaron led the Milwaukee Braves to their only world championship, I’ve been a vocal Aaron advocate – even telling friends at Passaic High School that he would break Babe Ruth’s record 10 years before it actually happened.

That being said, I believe it’s a bad idea to add Negro Leagues statistics to the existing major-league record.

As I wrote in my book The New Baseball Bible, “Records were not kept in all Negro Leagues games because the media paid little attention to them. Several black newspapers did make an attempt, however.

“The Pittsburgh Courier kept tabs on the Homestead (Pennsylvania) Grays and the Baltimore Afro-American and Chicago Defender followed other Negro League teams.

“When the Courier went out of business, many of the records – haphazard to begin with – were lost.”

The Negro National League and Negro American League, the biggest and best of nearly a dozen black leagues, were six-club circuits with uncertain schedules.

Record-keeping was difficult because games were played not only against league rivals but also against semi-pro clubs or any other opposition that would generate enough revenue to keep a Negro Leagues club solvent.

Josh Gibson, reputed to be the Babe Ruth of black baseball, came along too soon to follow Jackie Robinson to the majors. But he hit more than 70 home runs in a season several times, making him the only ballplayer to perform such a herculean feat.

At age 19 in 1930, he hit the only fair ball over the Yankee Stadium roof.

Gibson also had three homers and a triple for the Homestead Grays in a Wrigley Field game against the Kansas City Monarchs. The opposing pitcher was the legendary Satchel Paige.

Paige, often called “the black Matty” after Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson, said he worked more than 2,500 games and threw more than 100 no-hitters in a career that stretched from 1926 to 1965 – 39 years later.

A lean control artist who wore size 12 shoes, Paige polished off Dizzy Dean and Bob Feller by shutting them out in highly-publicized exhibition games. In 1934, Paige spent the season pitching for a Bismarck, North Dakota team that won 104 of its 105 games. In a 13-inning post-season outing against Dean, who had won 30 games for the St. Louis Cardinals, Paige fanned 17 – two more than the Redbirds’ ace – and won the game, 1-0.

Paige was at least 59 [and maybe as old as 65] when he threw three scoreless innings, yielding one hit, for Charlie Finley’s Kansas City Athletics. That was his last game.

Although Negro Leagues statistics were supposedly added to existing player records from “Organized Ball,” that’s certainly not true in the case of Paige. Word of mouth – especially his own – did all the talking for him.

So did a few rivals. Hack Wilson, who had 56 homers and a record 191 RBI in 1930, shook his head after facing Paige in an exhibition game. “It looked like he was winding up with a baseball and throwing a pea,” the slugger said.

Still at issue, then, is blending records from leagues and teams playing indefinite schedules with stats set in stone. To lead in batting, home runs, or earned run average, players had to reach certain minimums. Not so in the Negro Leagues.

In addition, it’s true that Babe Ruth’s numbers were inflated by not facing the best black pitchers, but the stats of Josh Gibson were inflated by not facing the best white pitchers.

According to Baseball Reference, Gibson never played more than 69 games in a season or hit more than 20 home runs. In fact, his new “official” record shows 166 home runs – far from Ruth’s 714 – but a .373 lifetime average, seven points above previous career leader Ty Cobb.

Extrapolated over 162 games, Gibson averaged 45 home runs (one less than Ruth) and a whopping 197 runs batted in, far more than anyone in baseball history.

Even the Negro Leagues statistics committee headed by John Thorn, official historian of Major League Baseball, admitted it had no access to lost records and great difficulty in verifying the box scores or game accounts it actually discovered.

Compounding the felony, another committee – from the highly-respected Society for American Baseball Research – found a half-dozen other black leagues that should be included in the records upgrade.

Thorn’s committee set 1948 as the last year it considered, though several Negro Leagues soldiered on for several more seasons.

While the new record makes Gibson the all-time batting champion, supplanting Cobb, it does nothing for Aaron, whose brief tenure with the Indianapolis Clowns made him the last major-leaguer to play in the great black leagues.

It’s a sticky wicket, to be sure, but none more controversial than ghost runners in extra innings, Hall of Fame voting, fans picking All-Star lineups, interleague play, or a dozen other innovations of recent vintage.

Gibson and Paige have their places in Cooperstown and they are well-deserved. In addition, their plaques will tell generations to come about their extraordinary achievements.

That should be enough – especially since baseball history also includes independent minor leagues with players and clubs more potent than their big-league contemporaries [see Pacific Coast League, American Association, and International League for starters].

Dan Schlossberg, Senior Writer
Dan Schlossberg, Senior Writerhttps://mlbreport.com/
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is a national baseball writer for forbes.com; weekend editor of the Here’s The Pitch newsletter; columnist for Sports Collectors Digest; and contributor to USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Memories & Dreams, and many other outlets. He’s also the author of more than 40 books. His email is ballauthor@gmail.com.


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