Negro Leagues statistics to be officially incorporated into MLB historical record

Josh Gibson has long been considered one of the best baseball players to ever hold a bat, but you might not know his name. Gibson, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, never had his name in the Major League Baseball record books — until now.

MLB confirmed Tuesday that Negro Leagues statistics will officially become a part of MLB’s historical record Wednesday. The move will open the door for 2,300 Negro Leagues players to have their accomplishments recognized in the league’s official database.

Commissioner Robert Manfred announced three years ago that “Major League Baseball is correcting a longtime oversight in the game’s history by officially elevating the Negro Leagues to ‘Major League’ status.”

Gibson will now lead multiple batting categories.

His Negro Leagues career batting average, slugging percentage and OPS eclipse records set by major league legends Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. His single-season records set in the 1930s and ’40s also rank as some of the highest of all time.

Gibson’s other achievements, mythologized in baseball history — his plaque in Cooperstown, New York, says he “hit almost 800 home runs” — will still be omitted from the league statistics, but the home runs and RBIs and countless other stats Black players put up more than 100 years ago will now appear next to those of modern-day icons like Mike Trout and Aaron Judge.

‘Absolutely the right decision’

Major League Baseball historian John Thorn chairs the Negro Leagues Statistical Review Committee and is tasked with reviewing thousands of box scores and other data and information as part of the endeavor. The committee was formed to integrate the provable statistics from the seven leagues within the Negro Leagues and add them to the MLB database.

The project is years in the making, and it will be updated as more data is made available. Researchers continue to pore over decades of newspaper clippings, microfilm and anecdotal accounts to add to the historical record.

Thorn described the MLB decision as “not only righting a social, cultural and historical wrong, it’s defining baseball as a game for Americans without exclusion.”

“Baseball is a game of consistency, and it’s also a game of change. We may be slow to change, but when we do, it can be profound,” Thorn said.

Major League Baseball will also honor the Negro Leagues years with a tribute game set for June 20 at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama — the oldest professional baseball ballpark in the U.S. The game will include players’ wearing period uniforms and honoring legendary center fielder Willie Mays, an Alabama native.

The updated MLB database is set to go live at 10:30 a.m. ET Wednesday, and when it does, Thorn said, there will be “no asterisks, no footnotes” for stats from the Negro Leagues compared with those of the American and National leagues.

On Wednesday, he said, “the numbers will be no different for Willie Mays of the 1948 Birmingham Barons than that of Willie Mays of the [New York] Giants in 1951.”

‘We always considered him a major leaguer’

Sean Gibson is the executive director of the Josh Gibson Foundation and the slugger’s great-grandson. After sitting on the review committee, he said the family is excited for “Big Josh” and all the Negro Leagues players.

“We always considered him a major leaguer; he just didn’t play in the major leagues,” Sean Gibson said.

He added that he wants to see where his great-grandfather and other players rank in the record books next to the likes of other MLB legends, noting that 97-year-old Ron Teasley, one of the three surviving Negro Leagues players, will finally get to see his stats in the MLB’s book.

“If Josh Gibson was alive right now, he’d be honored,” Sean Gibson said. “He’ll probably wonder why it took so long. He’ll be happy for all the other baseball players, and more importantly he’ll be excited for his family to carry on his legacy.”