In 1947, Jackie Robinson stepped onto the Brooklyn Dodgers field, breaking Major League Baseball's color barrier becoming the first black player in the MLB. Before that, Black ballplayers played in the Negro Leagues, and the leagues were among the most successful Black-owned businesses in the U.S.
The LA Times Kevin Baxter writes there's a strong movement for baseball to recognize stats from that era's ballplayers.
In the late 1800s, Black players were allowed to play in some minor leagues, and some of the owners of those teams came together and enacted the "gentleman's agreement," which forbade Black players from playing in those leagues.
"Black players went on to form their own leagues, and there were seven Negro Leagues at one point. Most leagues were on caliber with white major league teams. And the real hey-day of the Negro Leagues was from 1920 to 1948—the year after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and Blacks started to go into the major leagues," said Baxter.
The Negro Leagues were owned by Black entrepreneurs all over the country.
"Many of them played in major league stadiums, but to make ends meet, they would also barnstorm across the country. They would play 60 to 70 league games against one another, just like the major league teams did, but they played as many as 100 games against semi-pro teams, minor league teams, and sometimes against major league teams to make ends meet," added Baxter.
Now baseball wants to give the Negro League players the recognition they deserve, but not everyone is on board.
"What they're talking about doing now is taking the Negro League stats and merging them with Major League stats. That has been done before, but it is controversial because you're going to take players like Josh Gibson, he would be the second-best hitter of all time, but Ted Williams and Babe Ruth would fall out of the top 10 if the Negro Leagues players were added in," said Baxter.
Gathering the Negro League players' statistics was also not an easy task.
"This has been going on for three or four decades now. Larry Lester, who was the co-founder of the Negro League Museum in Kansas City, was the one that started this. They had to find the Black teams' schedules, which was difficult, because they were not covered by many of the white major newspapers. So they'd go to some Black-owned newspapers, find the box scores and start to piece together some of the games. Before the internet, they had to go to different cities, libraries, and newspapers to find these statistics. With the internet's help, they now have a statistical package that rivals anything that the Major Leagues have put together. Therefore, the stats for the Negro Leagues are equal to the ones of the Major Leagues and are comparable," added Baxter.
"I think baseball needs to get their mind around the idea of accepting these statistics because it will be controversial. Bob Kendrick, the President of the Negro League Museum, said that if you add Josh Gibson to the top 10 of all-time greatest hitters and push Babe Ruth out, that doesn't diminish Babe Ruth. He is still a great player. What it does is it introduces people to the greatness of Josh Gibson, which many might not know about," said Baxter.