Baseball’s sacred record books are finally being revised to include the long-denied acknowledgment and acceptance of the Negro Leagues.
Major League Baseball called it a “long overdue recognition” in their news release.
Many consider the reclassification an admission of guilt and racism, including Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick.
“The realization of baseball is not validation, but acknowledgment and reckoning of righting a wrong is what really makes this watershed milestone in my purview,” Kendrick said. “We know there are gaps in the page of American history book. There are so many that have contributed to the greatness of this country and their stories have never been properly told. Well, the Negro Leagues was one of those great stories.”
Records and stats of approximately 3,400 players from 1920-1948 will now be a part of baseball’s official history.
The Negro Leagues were once the only place Black baseball players could survive and prosper. The historic decision culminates MLB’s centennial celebration of the Negro Leagues.
There aren’t many people alive that understand and appreciate what Black ballplayers from that period experienced more than Larry Lester. He co-founded the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, MO 30 years ago.
“I also cried some tears of sadness that players like Larry Doby, Minnie Minoso, Monty Irvin and Joe Black didn’t live long enough to see this incredible achievement,” Lester told PIX11 News. “It’s mind-boggling that it could actually happen.”
Baseball’s dark chapter is now a thing of the past. Unfortunately, only a handful Negro Leaguers are alive to rejoice in the decision.
“I’m hoping from a part of the five that have survived that the families of 3,400 or more will take some pride of being able to open a book or go to a website and see their ancestors name mixed in with white major leaguers, who are contemporaries but who he never got the chance to play,” explained MLB’s official historian John Thorn.
There was never a question of the legitimacy of the Negro Leagues. The league sold out major league ballparks during the 1920s and 1930s, and greats, including Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, played against Black ball players in exhibition games. Everyone knew how talented Black baseball ballplayers were.
Outside the ballpark, Negro Leaguers were reminded of their harsh reality.
“Imagine you ride into a town, fill the ballpark up, yet you can’t get a meal from the same fans that cheered you or you can’t get a place to stay, so you stay on the bus and eat your peanut butter and crackers,” Kendrick said. “There never allowed those kind of hardships to kill their love of the game. If I got to sleep on the bus or if I got to eat my peanut butter and crackers, then so be it. I’m going to keep playing ball.”
Negro Leaguers were resilient and could play with the best of them. Some of the baseball’s greatest played in the league. Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige are just a few whose legacy will now be elevated even higher with the addition of the Negro League statistics.
“I think the MLB can do much more. Recognizing the Negro Leagues as a Major League and their stats is a start in the right direction,” Lester said. “I’ve always advocated for them to recognize more ballplayers from their respective cities. Why not recognize the Hall of Famers in that city?”
Progress has been made, but there’s still more work to be done when it comes to acknowledging the extent racism played in the game. The numbers and merging of records will never depict the full picture.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get a complete record of the Negro Leagues. That’s also part of the story,” Negro Leagues Baseball Museum Vice President Raymond Doswell said. “A reason we don’t have a complete record now is because of segregation and racism and Black baseball not being covered on a daily basis by the press.”
The reverence of the Negro Leagues doesn’t change because of this announcement. It’s just another example all too common within the Black community — when you’re not welcome to a party, thrown your own.
Then, maybe a 100 years later, your party will be acknowledged.
“We should always be reminded of those as the late great Buck Oneil said who built the bridge,” Kendrick said. “The players in the Negro Leagues built this bridge so others could cross over it. Ultimately that’s what led us to this watershed moment.”