As It Happens

Black players in the Negro Leagues incorporated into baseball's go-to site for statistics

The Negro Leagues produced some of baseball's most talented players, from Willie Mays to Jackie Robinson and Bullet Rogan — and only now, they're being recognized as such by the go-to site for the game's statistics.

Bob Kendrick says 'this story is so much bigger than the numbers' and baseball itself

Pitcher Leroy (Satchel) Paige is shown in action during the 1961 Negro American League 29th East-West All Star game at New York's Yankee Stadium. (The Associated Press)

When Black Americans tried joining major and minor baseball leagues during segregation, they weren't accepted — so they created a league of their own.

The Negro Leagues went on to produce some of the game's most talented players, from Willie Mays to Jackie Robinson and Bullet Rogan. Now they're being recognized as such by the go-to site for baseball statistics,

Bob Kendrick runs the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Miss., and he helped Baseball-Reference with the new data on the site.

"It's exciting. It makes us feel proud," he told As It Happens host Carol Off. "It makes us feel like we've been part of a movement that has led to this date."

'The Negro Leagues are Major Leagues' announced this week that "the Negro Leagues are Major Leagues."

"We have had Negro League baseball stats on Baseball Reference for at least 10 years now," wrote the website's creator, Sean Forman. "But we treated them as less than the statistics of the white major leagues. We will now treat them as the major leagues they are."

The statistics of seven Black baseball leagues from 1920-1932 have been incorporated into the leaderboards and the advanced search tool.

Willie Mays, former Giants great, waves to the crowd during the San Francisco Giants World Series victory parade in 2012. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The website is working with hundreds of researchers, activists, players and families to continue updating their data. 

"Career numbers will fluctuate, home run and win totals will be added to. Wins Above Replacement numbers will change as park factors are improved. Player records may be merged or split, and new players will be discovered," Forman wrote.

The website makes it a point to recognize that the data doesn't show the complete story. The Negro Leagues played on a major league level, but their wages, travel, playing conditions, press coverage and record-keeping were "more varied, primarily due to systemic racism."

"You can never reduce the Negro Leagues to just mere statistics," Kendrick said. "This story is so much bigger than the numbers ... so much bigger than the game of baseball itself.

Black baseball legends

Jackie Robinson was celebrated as the first Black player to join the major leagues in 1947, but the success of most Black players continued to be overlooked.

"You should know about the great Cuban Martín Dihigo, nicknamed El Maestro (the Master) because he could do it all. Played all nine positions," Kendrick said. 

He went on to explain how Dihigo is the only baseball player to be enshrined into five different countries' baseball halls of fame.

The Negro Leagues began to dissolve one year after Jackie Robinson became MLB's first Black player with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. (Hulton|Archive/Getty Images)

Kendrick's friend and founder of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, John Buck O'Neil, considered Oscar Charleston to be the greatest baseball player he ever saw.

Charleston was a powerful hitter who could hit to all fields and bunt. He was also extremely fast on the base paths and in centre field. He outran many batted balls.

"He's not a household name and he should be," Kendrick said.

He also mentioned Satchel Paige, a pitcher whose big league numbers never told his legend.

"In 1943, the Kansas City Monarchs' owner, James Leslie Wilkinson, bought an airplane so that he could fly Satchel Paige to go play for other teams," Kendrick said. "He hired him out to go pitch for other teams to then fly back to go pitch for the Kansas Monarchs."

Baseball fans may have heard the names of these Black players. But now their scores and histories have been made widely available through Baseball-Reference.

"That was what they were striving for the entire time," Kendrick said. "That's the quest, I think, of Black people in this country, by and large.... No matter what the endeavour is, is that you just want to be recognized for what you do, not the colour of your skin as you do it."

Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview with Bob Kendrick produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes.

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