MLB aims to begin evaluating Negro Leagues stats with eye on record books

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(NEW YORK) — Major League Baseball announced on Monday that a new committee of researchers and experts is working to evaluate the statistics of Negro Leagues players. The move comes three years after MLB said it was “officially elevating the Negro Leagues to ‘Major League’ status.”

The committee, which MLB says has already met several times, will be advising MLB on which stats to integrate into the Major League record books. ABC News first reported the existence of the committee last month in the “Reclaimed: The Forgotten League” podcast. When asked, MLB did not provide ABC News with a timeline for the initiative.

The statistics of the Negro League players have been gathered by third-party data researchers from Seamheads and Baseball-Reference over several decades and have been widely used to compare these players with their Major League counterparts. These comparisons have often sparked debate, as the Negro Leagues statistics were less thoroughly kept than Major League records, partially because of the Negro Leagues’ financial instability brought on by segregation.

The statistics of 3,400 players, subject to evaluation by MLB and data researchers, may now be added to MLB’s official statistical record book, held by the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Negro Leagues were formed in the era of segregation in baseball, which ended in 1947 when Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers. When MLB announced that they were “elevating” Negro Leagues to the status of Major Leagues, many family members of Negro League players were looking forward to seeing the results.

However, in the three years after the December 2020 announcement, MLB did not provide any significant updates about the progress of the initiative.

Sean Gibson, the great-grandson of Negro Leagues power-hitter Josh Gibson, said he felt like he was in “limbo.” He said the announcement by MLB came “at a time when African Americans” were “upset because it came during the George Floyd killing that same year.”

“I had several reporters ask me, did I think MLB did this as a PR move?” Gibson said on “Reclaimed: The Forgotten League” podcast, “And I said, ‘well, I can’t speak on behalf of Major League Baseball. You have to ask them that question, but I hope not.’”

As reported in the podcast, some family members of Negro Leagues players were invited to a meeting earlier this year with MLB. According to sources who attended the meeting, families asked the MLB representative to give them an update on the incorporation of the Negro Leagues statistics. The MLB representative responded, “Haven’t we already done that?”

MLB later told ABC News that this was a misunderstanding, and that the MLB rep was instead referring to the “process created to complete an agreement” for use of the Negro Leagues data.

MLB also told ABC that the waiting period between announcement and implementation was a result of treating the process with “thoroughness and thoughtfulness,” and that they “spent time coming to an agreement with experts that allows us to use the data on which the decision was based and partner with the leading researchers behind that effort.”

The host of “Reclaimed: The Forgotten League” podcast, Vanessa Ivy Rose – who is also the granddaughter of Negro Leagues legend Norman ‘Turkey’ Stearnes – posted on X that this committee announcement feels like “the same story all over again.” “This whole article” she said, referring to the MLB article announcing the committee, “can be summed up in one word: wait.”

Listen to “Reclaimed: The Forgotten League,” the third season of ABC News’ “Reclaimed” podcast series, on major listening platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon audio, and the ABC News app.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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