Welcome to the Negro Leagues are Major Leagues
by Sean Forman, President of Sports Reference LLC and creator of Baseball-Reference.com
This week, Baseball Reference will recognize certain Negro Leagues as major leagues on our site. With this change, we now present these Black major leagues as the equals of the American and National Leagues. We have had Negro League baseball stats on Baseball Reference for at least ten years now, 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.
Our decision to fix this omission is just a tiny part of the story. The main story here is the work of hundreds of researchers, activists, players, and families who did the research, made their arguments, and would not let the memories of these players and leagues fade away. The two gentlemen here with me today, Sean Gibson and Larry Lester, represent the groups most central to this story, the players and their families and the researchers who told their stories.
The new data we are presenting is groundbreaking in its scope, but it is not complete. This may cause some concern, but I view the situation as similar to what in 1958, we would have known about the Federal League or the American Association. In our office, we have hundreds of statistics books for White major leagues, some published as far back as the late 1800s. Even with that head start, it was only through a massive undertaking in the late 1960s (costing what would be millions of dollars today) that the original Baseball Encyclopedia was published. And even now fifty years later, we are still uncovering and updating changes to the data for the American and National Leagues. The statistics for the Negro Leagues have not seen the same level of investment. As I said at the start, we will no longer treat the Negro Leagues as less than, but we must acknowledge they are different. The economic and societal disadvantages for these leagues were substantial and a different system was created in response to these challenges. We must accept and account for these differences as we do this work. We hope that our publication of these stats will spark more research. As this research is done, the accuracy and completeness of what we present on the site will only increase.
Our primary goals with this project are to celebrate the Negro Leagues and their teams and players and to educate our audience about the context and history of these leagues. We know that the statistics are just a small part of the story and that is especially true here, where many of the statistics for the games are not yet known and many of the games were played as exhibitions or outside of league play. To foster greater understanding we have commissioned nearly a dozen articles by researchers, players, and family members including a statistical case for why the Negro Leagues should be considered major leagues, the setting of the color line in the White major leagues, the role of Latin ballplayers in the Negro Leagues, and the business aspects of Black Baseball in America. Likewise, we are launching a podcast series this week which will cover many of the same topics. This project is the largest project Sports Reference has undertaken, occupying nearly half of our team for the last four months. I am extremely proud of the work our team has done on this project. We've also been fortunate to partner with Curtis Harris, as an advisor and host of our podcast series, Caitlin Moyer, and Cecilia Tan, who is editing our articles.
It's been our great pleasure to work on this project with so many skilled and passionate people. We want to thank Gary Ashwill, Kevin Johnson, Larry Lester and the Seamheads team who chose to work with us and have been the leaders in the compilation of this dataset. Jim Riley and Chris Creamer have provided additional player headshots and team logos. Dozens of historians and researchers, including Gary Gillette, Todd Peterson, Michael Lomax, and Leslie Heaphy, contributed articles to the site, recorded interviews for our podcast, or provided their detailed feedback on the beta site. Family members and current major league players, such as Sean Gibson, Vanessa Rose, Andrew McCutchen, and Adam Jones, have kept our focus on the players' stories and how we can celebrate these players' legacies. The Society for American Baseball Research has for decades provided a forum for a great deal of this research and last winter convened a task force to enumerate the leagues which deserve recognition as major leagues. Finally, it's been an honor to work with the Negro League Baseball Museum on this project. Museum President Bob Kendrick and curator Dr. Raymond Doswell have been very generous to us with their time and knowledge.
Much remains to be done. The statistics you see on our site will change as new information is discovered. 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. Just as the statistical history of the White major leagues was built upon the contributions of hundreds of people, hundreds more will take part in continuing to build the statistical history of the Black major leagues.