Negro Leagues Data: Frequently Asked Questions

There are currently seven Negro Leagues presented as major leagues on Baseball Reference. This is consistent with the decision of SABR's Negro Leagues Task Force in February 2021 and Major League Baseball's announcement in December 2020. The Negro Leagues data on Baseball Reference:

  • Includes league games, interleague games against other major Negro League clubs, and games against select top-level independent Black baseball clubs.
  • Does not include the extensive number of barnstorming and exhibition games that Negro League clubs played in a season. These games were an important part of a club’s season, but are not included in our records because the quality of the opposition varied wildly.
  • Was constructed from contemporary box scores by Agate Type Research, the team behind the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database.
  • Continues to evolve. Each year, we update the database with additional statistics and biographical data from Seamheads. We are currently working on the 2024 update, which may include expanded coverage of top independent teams and leagues.

On June 15, 2021, we dramatically expanded our coverage of the Negro Leagues and historical Black major league players. Major Negro Leagues (from 1920-1948) are now listed with the National League and American League as major leagues. This page aims to provide answers to questions you may have about our coverage and our decisions.

Due to the color line imposed by the white major leagues between the late 19th century and 1947, top Black and Afro-Latino players, managers, executives, umpires, and promoters were forced to create their own baseball ecosystem. This ecosystem, collectively known as the “Negro Leagues,” included established leagues and top independent clubs, but can also be expanded to include other environments where top Black talent were forced to ply their trade (including semi-pro, company, military, and international teams—some of which were integrated).

There was no single “Negro League.” In the late 19th and early 20th century, there were several attempts to start organized Black baseball leagues but none survived a full season until Rube Foster founded the first Negro National League (NNL) in 1920. The NNL was based in the Midwest and featured elite clubs such as the Chicago American Giants and Kansas City Monarchs. The Eastern Colored League (ECL) followed in 1923, giving top clubs on the East coast (such as the Hilldale Club and the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants) a structured league of their own. The two leagues faced off in the first Negro World Series in 1924.

During the Great Depression, the Negro Leagues struggled. The NNL and ECL folded. New leagues were founded but failed to survive. Top clubs moved from league to league—sometimes playing full seasons independently without a league affiliation. Black Baseball finally began to stabilize again in 1933 with the founding of the second Negro National League (NN2) and the formation of the East-West All-Star Game. The Negro American League (NAL) followed in 1937 with the Negro World Series resuming in 1942. The NN2 and Negro World Series lasted through 1948 (the year after Jackie Robinson re-broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier) while the NAL operated into early 1962.

The re-integration of the AL and NL after Robinson debuted was slow. When the 1952 season ended, only five teams (the Brooklyn Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, New York Giants, Boston Braves, and Chicago White Sox) had Black or Afro-Latino players on their roster. The St. Louis Browns briefly integrated in 1947, but quickly abandoned the experiment. The last teams to integrate were the Detroit Tigers in 1958 and Boston Red Sox in 1959.

Which Negro Leagues are classified as major?

At this time, we are presenting seven Black baseball leagues as full major leagues. This is consistent with the decision of SABR's Negro Leagues Task Force in February 2021 and Major League Baseball's announcement in December 2020. Those leagues are:

All clubs within these leagues are classified as major.

In June 2024, SABR’s Special Negro Leagues and Teams Committee recommended several more top independent Black baseball clubs and league seasons be classified as major. We are currently considering expanding our coverage.

Why are the Negro Leagues classified as major?

The Negro Leagues are major leagues because of the high quality of play and the presence of many of the best available baseball players in the world. This does not mean that the Negro Leagues are the same as the AL and NL. The Negro Leagues are major leagues, but they are also very different, with most of the differences due to systemic racism.

Once the AL and NL finally re-integrated, six of the first seven NL Rookie of the Year Award winners were products of the Negro Leagues. From 1949 to 1959, nine of 11 NL Most Valuable Player Award winners came from the Negro Leagues (although Henry Aaron and Ernie Banks played in the Negro Leagues after they were no longer considered major).

Roughly half of the position players with 40+ WAR between 1950 and 1975 were Black or Afro-Latino. If you turn back the clock 30 years for these players, half of the top talent in major league baseball would not have been allowed to play.

How was the Negro Leagues data on Baseball Reference recorded?

Official Negro League data was generally not kept by a central source. League games were only part of a Negro League team’s season schedule. Many teams barnstormed extensively against Black, white, and integrated teams of varying levels of skill. These games were important for funding a club’s operations, but are not included in our data set.

The data displayed on Baseball Reference was reconstructed from contemporary box scores and game accounts by Agate Type Research, the team behind the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database.

It is worth noting that even this herculean effort to compile stats 80 years after the fact is still a tiny fraction of the investment made in recording the stats of white major leagues. White major leagues had the support of a well funded central league office, multiple newspapers covering the teams in each city, and independent publishers of statistics such as the Sporting News and the Reach and Spalding Guides. Even with this investment there are still thousands of inconsistencies and errors in MLB's stats prior to the 1960s.

Therefore the Black major league stats must be viewed within the context within which they were created. We encourage you to keep the history of the game and the stories and names of these players front and center and not focus on the bookkeeping aspects of the project.

Which games are included in the Negro Leagues data set?

The data displayed on Baseball Reference includes:

  • League games
  • Interleague games against other major Negro League clubs
  • Games against select top-level independent Black baseball clubs

Player stats include all of these games, but team records include only league games.

Why do Negro League players and teams have fewer games per season?

The data on our site does not include the extensive number of barnstorming and exhibition games that Negro League clubs played in a season. These games were an important part of a club’s season, but are not included in our records because the quality of the opposition varied wildly.

If you look at a player or team on Baseball Reference and see that they played 60 games in a season, keep in mind that they likely played at least twice as many games as that (and perhaps three times as many). What you are seeing on our site is their performance against the best competition they faced during the season.

Only about 75% of games have player stats because a full box score is required to be included in the database. Coverage varies by club. Some have full coverage. Some are missing a significant number of box scores (for example, in 1948 the Memphis Red Sox played 112 known games but only 13 box scores have been discovered).

Why do some Negro League players (or teams) have gaps in their records?

Because Black baseball clubs did not have the financial means of the AL and NL, league structures were inconsistent. This was particularly evident during the Depression. Leagues folded, new leagues were created, and sometimes top clubs found it more financially viable to play a completely independent schedule. These independent schedules included many barnstorming games but also games against other top Black clubs.

For example, the Kansas City Monarchs do not appear as major between 1931 and 1936 because they were not a part of one of the seven major Negro Leagues. They were still a major league caliber club, boasting many Hall of Famers on their roster. In June 2024, SABR’s Special Negro Leagues and Teams Committee recommended several of these top independent Black baseball clubs be reclassified as major. We are currently considering expanding our coverage to reflect this.

Josh Gibson’s page has gaps in 1931, 1932, and 1941. In the first two seasons, he played for top independent clubs (1931 with the Homestead Grays and 1932 with the Pittsburgh Crawfords). These two teams were recommended by SABR as major in the report linked above. However, Gibson spent the 1941 season playing in the Mexican League. This is one of many cases where top Negro League players decided it was best for them to play outside of the league structure or even outside of the country. Many great Negro League players defected to the Mexican League in the early 1940s.

Satchel Paige has gaps in his career for 1932, 1935, and 1937. In 1932, he played with Gibson on the Crawfords. In 1935, he chose to play for an integrated semi-pro team in Bismarck, North Dakota. In 1937, he was offered a large sum of money to recruit Negro League players to the Dominican Republic to play for a team sponsored by dictator Rafael Trujillo.

For some Afro-Latino stars, the Negro League was only one of the places they played. Juan “Tetelo” Vargas, currently our single-season batting average record holder, only appears in five seasons on Baseball Reference. But he had an illustrious career in Latin America, playing 33 years in seven different countries. Similarly, there were several players of major league quality who never played (or barely played) in the AL and NL because of the slow integration process. Buster Clarkson, for example, was a superstar in the Negro Leagues and Latin America but did not get called up to the National League until he was 37 years old in 1952.

How many home runs did Josh Gibson hit?

Josh Gibson’s Hall of Fame plaque says that he hit “almost 800 home runs” while our site shows 166. There are many reasons for this discrepancy.

  • Our data does not include league box scores that have not been discovered. For example, it is known that Gibson hit four home runs in a game against the Memphis Red Sox on July 28, 1938. Alas, a full box score has not been discovered so the game is not included in his statistics.
  • Our data does not include barnstorming statistics. These games were often against weaker competition which could have resulted in quite a few round-trippers for Gibson.
  • As mentioned earlier, Gibson played for top independent clubs that are not currently classified as major on our site. We are in the process of reevaluating the classification of these clubs.
  • Gibson also played for teams in Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela. These games are also not included in our database.

It is likely that Gibson actually did hit 800 home runs, but he hit them in many different environments.

How do Negro League leaderboard qualifications work?

For our seasonal leaderboards, we require Negro League players to have 2.6 at bats or 1 inning pitched per team game. We use 2.6 at bats because the requirement at the time in the AL and NL was 400 at bats in a 154 game season (or 2.6 at bats per team game).

It is important to note that for “team games” we are using the number of box scores available for that team rather than the number of games they are known to have played. We do not want to penalize a player because box scores for their team have not been located. For example, in 1948 we show Artie Wilson leading the Negro American League with a .433 average in 29 games and 120 at bats. His team played 93 games, so ordinarily his at bat requirement would be 242. However, his team's stats only include 29 box scores (meaning he actually played in every game we have a record for). For that reason, his at bat requirement is 76 at bats, which he clears easily.

We understand that this can lead to some surprising results on leaderboards, but it is the approach we feel is the most just. Negro League data remains a work in progress and these leaderboards continue to change as more data is uncovered.

Our career leaderboards still require 3,000 plate appearances or 1,000 innings pitched. We are in the process of reevaluating this minimum because very few Negro League players clear these bars due to both the schedule length and the inconsistent record-keeping (neither of which are the fault of the player).

Where does Josh Gibson appear on the all-time leaderboards?

At this time, Josh Gibson does not appear on our career leaderboards because we currently require a minimum of 3,000 plate appearances. We are in the process of reevaluating our leaderboard minimums to account for the shorter Negro League schedules. We are also in the process of reviewing SABR’s recommendation that Gibson’s 1931 and 1932 seasons (for Homestead and Pittsburgh, respectively) be classified as major.

Gibson appears prominently on single-season leaderboards.

  • Batting Average: Gibson’s 1943 season (.466) ranks second all-time on our leaderboard, but first on MLB’s all-time Batting Average leaderboard. MLB does not include Tetelo Vargas’ 1943 (.471) season for the New York Cubans because Vargas’s team does not meet their 60-game minimum. The Cubans played over 60 games (including league games, interleague games, and games against top Black independent clubs—but not including barnstorming games). However, only 38 box scores have been uncovered. Vargas qualifies by our standards because his 121 at-bats exceed the minimum requirement based on available box scores (38 games × 2.6 at bats per game equals a minimum of 99 at bats).
  • On-Base Percentage: Gibson’s 1943 season (.560) ranks third all-time on our leaderboard, behind Barry Bonds’ 2004 and 2002 seasons.
  • Slugging Percentage: Gibson’s 1937 season (.974) ranks first all-time on our leaderboard, a whopping 97 points ahead of the next player (Mule Suttles’ .877 in 1926).
  • OPS: Gibson’s 1937 season (1.474) ranks first-all time on our leaderboard. Gibson also ranks second with 1.427 in 1943.

How does the Negro Leagues data differ from other major league data?

There are many ways in which our Negro Leagues data is different from our AL/NL data. Those include:

  • No game logs. We don’t have game-level data at this time.
  • No park factors. Currently, OPS+, ERA+, and WAR do not include park factors. This relies on game-level data since Negro League teams didn’t necessarily always play home games in their home ballparks.
  • Transaction data.
  • Uniform data.
  • Salary data.
  • East-West All-Star game logs and stats.
  • No-hitters and perfect games.

Our goal is to add as much of this information as possible, but due to the lack of robust record keeping some information may never be available.

What updates have been made to the Negro Leagues data?

Since the launch of our Negro Leagues data in June 2021, we have done two annual updates. You can find the details of those updates on our blog:

We are currently working on our 2024 update (which we delayed so we could review the recommendation from SABR’s Special Negro Leagues and Teams Committee).

Learn More about the Negro Leagues