Last month MLB revised its listing of which leagues throughout baseball history constituted major leagues. Besides the NL and AL it had previously recognized late 19th/early 20th century leagues such as the American Association, Federal League, Union Association, and Players League as major leagues. As of last month, the list now includes an obvious, glaring omission: the Negro Leagues. Specifically, it includes what are considered 7 major leagues from 1920-1948. After 1948, enough black ball players were being recruited into AL and NL organizations that the remaining Negro League was no longer major league quality. The recognized Negro Leagues:
Negro National League, 1920-1931…and a second Negro National League, 1933-1948
Eastern Colored League, 1923-1928
American Negro League, 1929
East-West League, 1929
Negro Southern League, 1932
Negro American League, 1937-1948 (league existed to 1960)
It should be noted that only actual league games will count in the official major league stats. Negro League teams often made much of their income via barnstorming, playing as many as 100 games that way a year. Josh Gibson is reputed to have hit over 800 homers in his career, but most were not in official league games. His Negro Leagues career ended in 1948 (he played for a while in the Mexican leagues after that), and he will now have official major league stats. His homer total will be between 100-200. However, his career batting average of .361 would be second all time, behind only Ty Cobb. His .466 average in 69 league games in 1943 would be the highest ever and eclipse Ted Williams’ .406 in 1941 as the most recent.400 major league season.
Satchel Paige would now be considered to have made his major league debut in 1927. His official major league stats up to now have been 28-31 with a 3.29 ERA. Now that record will be 140-91 with a 2.58 ERA.
Buck O’Neil will now have 10 major league seasons. He should be in the HoF already, and perhaps that will enhance his case this year when the Early Baseball committee of the HoF considers who among pre-1950 baseball figures might deserve enshrinement.
The last Negro Leagues player recruited to a NL or AL team was Hank Aaron. He spent a short time with the Indianapolis Clowns, in 1952, where it was rapidly apparent he belonged at a higher level of baseball. The Clowns ultimately became sort of a baseball version of the Harlem Globetrotters until they folded in the 1980s.
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Side note, the Clowns were actually based in Buffalo from 1951 – 55. Goose Tatum, more known for his time with the Harlem Globetrotters, also played with the Clowns in the 1940’s.
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