MLB records change as Negro League stats are integrated, but it’s a complicated shift

As of Wednesday, May 29 there’s a new all-time leader in MLB batting average. Josh Gibson, arguably the greatest player in the history of the Negro League, now tops the list with a career .372.

It’s part of Major League Baseball’s initiative to integrate their statistical databases to include Negro League records, ensuring that some of the greatest players of all time are adequately represented in their official records. The change has already taken place, with the new list now appearing on .

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Beyond Gibson taking the No.1 spot there are numerous other significant shakeups to MLB records as a result of the stat integration.

  • Buck Leonard is now 8th on the all-time batting average list (.345)
  • Josh Gibson is now 1st in SLG percentage, and OPS unseating Babe Ruth in both categories

The other element to this is that Negro League statistics remain very much a work in progress. It’s been estimated that 75 percent of games have been documented and added to the record, but considerable research and conservatory work is still being done to account for the other quarter of the league’s history which has been lost to time.

This means that as time progresses we could see more stats change, depending on what historians are able to unearth from those lost games. It’s unlikely it will amount to anything as profound as Josh Gibson bouncing the likes of Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth down the leaderboards, but it could have an effect deeper in the all-time stats lists.

This is undoubtably progress

It’s impossible to truly know how the legends from baseball history would have stacked up against each other. Some of the greatest hitters in MLB history never had to face Satchel Paige, ‘Smokey’ Joe Williams, or Ray Brown.

Conversely, the Negro League hitting legends never had to take the plate against Lefty Grove, Carl Hubbell, or Hal Newhouser. The entire discussion is left to being great “what ifs,” and little more.

However, now we are over 100 years since the Negro League’s debut there’s a significant risk the legends of the past would have been lost to history. Incredible baseball historians have been continuing to tell the stories of the Negro Leagues, and with media like MLB The Show continuing to tell their stories it’s ensured a new generation can better appreciate just how brilliant these players were.

Negro League players were, on a fundamental level, playing in the quote-unquote “majors.” There was no higher league they could participate in, and they very clearly demonstrated that they were some of the best players in the world, numerous of whom vastly eclipsed their equivalents in MLB.

There is a flip side to stat integration that we can’t ignore

As great as it is to have every player under one roof for the sake of statistical comparison, it’s critical that we don’t allow this step to become a whitewashing of history. There is an inescapable truth that black players were either overtly banned or colluded against in Major League Baseball until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

Their earnings were a pittance of their white compatriots. Their accomplishments were relegated to the back pages of history with intentionality. There’s a reason Babe Ruth is a household name the world over, but hearing “Satchel Paige” would barely raise an eyebrow in most circles — even in the United States.

Integrating MLB and Negro League stats doesn’t give major league baseball the right to be the great white savior to lift and showcase baseball’s past, without also appreciating why these players weren’t on official records until 2024. There has been significant work to honor black players from the Negro Leagues in the Hall of Fame, but until this moment their year-to-year achievements have been ignored.

It’s premature to cast too many aspersions at MLB until we see how this is fully integrated in broadcasts, social media, and beyond. Whatever discussion of Josh Gibson’s hitting or Satchel Paige’s hitting must include the caveat that these players were prevented from playing in Major League Baseball at all, or at the very least until their were past their prime,

This is a significant step in the right direction, but it can’t come at the cost of brushing away why the Negro Leagues existed and the problematic past of baseball from that era.

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