Pardon me as I do a slow, golf clap for Major League Baseball righting a 100-year wrong in formally recognizing the Negro Leagues as “major league”.
Keep in mind the reason Negro Leagues existed in the first place was because MLB did not admit black and Latin players. Players such as Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Satchel Paige and Willie Mays got their starts in the seven leagues that comprised the Negro Leagues, which ran from 1920 to 1948. And the only reason the Negro Leagues ceased operations was because MLB poached so many of their talented players.
So while we did get to see the likes of Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Satchel Paige (albeit beyond his prime) compete in MLB, we didn’t get to see stars such as Josh Gibson, Andrew “Rube” Foster, Walter “Buck” Leonard, and Norman “Turkey” Stearnes get opportunities to compete against Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Warren Spahn, Stan “The Man” Musial and many others. That, to me, remains the ultimate crime.
MLB’s Special Baseball Records Committee, who created the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia in 1969, didn’t bother to discuss the candidacy of the Negro Leagues. So MLB essentially did not recognize the stats and other achievements from the Negro Leagues for 50-plus years.
And yes, I know MLB was not alone in prohibiting black athletes from making a living back in the day. The NBA’s and especially the NFL’s egregious practice of both prohibiting and limiting the amount of black players on teams are well-documented. However, I cannot help but wonder a series of “what ifs” if black players were allowed to compete in MLB — or even formally compete AGAINST MLB in a playoff-style format.
What if Paige in his prime would have pitched against DiMaggio? How would Gibson fared against the great pitchers in MLB? Would baseball records look different?
Unfortunately we will never know.