In a move that’s so many decades overdue, Major League Baseball has finally designated Negro League players as major league. MLB hails the move as a “longtime oversight,” which gained momentum as the Negro National League celebrated its centennial over the summer. Now, players active in seven different segregated leagues between 1920-1948 will be recognized alongside white players from the same era in the MLB record books.
“All of us who love baseball have long known that the Negro Leagues produced many of our game’s best players, innovations, and triumphs against a backdrop of injustice,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “We are now grateful to count the players of the Negro Leagues where they belong: as major leaguers within the official historical record.”
The decision dates back to 1969, when the Special Committee on Baseball Records deliberately excluded Negro Leagues and cited six other official major leagues. Largely rooted in bigotry, the choice to bar Negro League players from major league designation was veiled in byzantine scrutiny applied to its structure that similar leagues didn’t face. MLB’s official historian, John Thorn, explained the process further in the league statement:
“The perceived deficiencies of the Negro Leagues’ structure and scheduling were born of MLB’s exclusionary practices, and denying them Major League status has been a double penalty, much like that exacted of Hall of Fame candidates prior to Satchel Paige’s induction in 1971. Granting MLB status to the Negro Leagues a century after their founding is profoundly gratifying.”
So what will this mean for Negro League players and the record books? At press time, 40 Negro League players have been inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, even prior to the official designation. For many of the greatest players of all time, who were only contained to playing in segregated leagues, this is a way for some excellent single-season performances to slot into MLB history. Other major league greats, like Willie Mays and Larry Doby, who got their start on Negro League clubs before joining integrated teams in the MLB, will find newly boosted career stats from those seasons.
While this is a grossly overdue maneuver to integrate a crucial element of baseball history, it’s only a start. As some have already begun to point out, the surviving players who just became designated as major leaguers have every right to MLB pension packages that kick in after 43 days of service time.