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Rewriting the record books: MLB officially incorporates Negro Leagues statistics

An updated version of the MLB historical database is set to be made public during a Negro Leagues tribute game on June 20 between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants.
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Posted at 10:20 AM, May 29, 2024

Move aside, Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth, because there's a new slugger topping the Major League Baseball record books. The league announced Tuesday that after three years of historical research, it has finally incorporated the stats of more 2,300 Negro Leagues players.

In a move deemed decades overdue by many fans, combining the records from both leagues has made Hall of Famer Josh Gibson the new MLB all-time hitting leader with a career batting average of .372, surpassing Cobb's .367. Gibson was also crowned the new career leader in slugging percentage (SLG) and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), topping baseball legend Babe Ruth in both hitting categories.

Gibson never got the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues, but he was a force to be reckoned with in the Negro Leagues. He played for three teams over the course of his 17-year career, was a 12-time All-Star, and is widely regarded as one of the best catchers and most fearsome sluggers in all of baseball history.

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MLB announced in December 2020 that it would reclassify the Negro Leagues as part of the major leagues, paving the way for players like Gibson, Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, Willie Mays and more to have their stats from the Negro Leagues be included in the MLB record books. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said it was a move the league was proud to make.

"This initiative is focused on ensuring that future generations of fans have access to the statistics and milestones of all those who made the Negro Leagues possible," Manfred said in a statement. "Their accomplishments on the field will be a gateway to broader learning about this triumph in American history and the path that led to Jackie Robinson’s 1947 Dodger debut."

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The Negro Leagues existed between 1920 and 1948 when Black players were not allowed to play in MLB. That was until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 with his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers, setting the stage for more Black athletes to integrate into what was once an all-White league.

An updated version of MLB's historical database is expected to be made public during a Negro Leagues tribute game on June 20 between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants. Phil Dixon, a Negro Leagues expert who served on the statistical review committee for the project, lauded the decision but admitted that the historical research is still far from over.

"Working with this expert group of baseball historians has been an honor. This is a great effort," Dixon said. "There is so much work to be done and so many stories to be told through the numbers, the articles and the box scores — found and yet to be found. The future of Black men in baseball has never looked brighter."