Finally getting the deserved recognition

By Benjamin Chase of the Plainsman
Posted 6/1/24

In this From the Mound, the writer examines the inclusion of Negro League statistics into Major League Baseball record books

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Finally getting the deserved recognition


“All those days chasing down a daydream
All those years living in a blur
All that time, never truly seeing
Things the way they were”
“I See the Light” — Mandy Moore & Zachary Levi

The touching duet from the 2010 Disney film Tangled, “I See the Light” was recognized with multiple nominations for songs written for movies, though only won the 2012 Grammy Award for “Best Song Written for Visual Media” out of all the nominations it received.

Actors Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi performed the song at the Academy Awards in 2011 to celebrate the song’s nomination for those awards.

The song doesn’t appear in the film until the climatic scene when Rapunzel has the chance for the first time to see the floating lantern display in Corona. She had witnessed the scene from her tower window her whole life, but she then was able to witness the lantern release up close and in person, something that she had been wishing for throughout her (18 years of) life.

Music critics had some harsh takes about the song, especially the lyrics, but this is not uncommon for Disney songs as critics look for lyrical content that will affect the average adult user, while Disney is aiming for songs and melodies that can be appreciated by a wide array of ages, with young children being the primary audience. They did well, as the song single has been certified platinum twice over based on streaming sales.

If one hadn’t ever seen the movie, they can get an idea of the response of Rapunzel to the event simply by listening to this quote from Negro Leagues Museum president Bob Kendrick this week:

“It is absolutely a watershed moment for both Black baseball and Negro Leagues history,” he said.

What was the “it” that Kendrick was referring to?

On Wednesday, the Major League Baseball record book underwent an overhaul, as statistical records from the Negro Leagues were integrated into Major League Baseball (MLB) statistics after a five-year examination to review and validate Negro League statistics.

This is not uncommon, as the MLB record books already include statistics from multiple other leagues that were not the American League and National League in the nearly 150-year history of professional baseball in this country.

The change has altered some numbers that we have been used to seeing. The single-season and career record books saw some significant changes from what many long-time fans were “used” to seeing.

The biggest benefactor of these changes was Josh Gibson, the elite catcher who played primarily with the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords, over a career that spanned 1930-1946. His career batting average of .372 now places him first all-time, ahead of Ty Cobb.

In fact, the top 10 career batting averages in the game’s history were significantly changed as five of the top 10 are now former Negro League players.

Gibson also surpassed another all-time great, Babe Ruth, who had a .690 slugging percentage in his career.

Incredibly, the verified statistics found by the research committee associated with MLB found Gibson’s career number was .718!

In single-season statistics, Gibson’s .466 batting average in 1943, blew away the modern mark of .424 in 1924 by Rogers Hornsby and even the pre-1900 record of .440 posted in 1894 by Hugh Duffy. Gibson also surpassed Barry Bonds for the best single-season slugging percentage, with a .974 mark in 1937, when he hit 20 home runs in just 39 official games.

While there are many who have been vocal about how upset they are about MLB “changing” the records, recognizing those who hold the true records isn’t lost on the family of those who have “lost” the records.

“Baseball history is a part of U.S. history, and I think (MLB) acknowledging and incorporating the Negro Leagues is a huge step in kind of bringing all the parts of baseball history together,” Tyrus Cobb, the great-grandson of former career batting average leader Ty Cobb, told the Associated Press. “And I think it’s actually pretty exciting that there’s a new statistical batting average leader.”

While many casual fans knew who Josh Gibson was even before this statistical adjustment, the great part about the last few days has been recognizing players who have seemingly fallen out of common knowledge, even among those who enjoy tracking Negro Leagues history.

Charlie “Chino” Smith played for the Brooklyn Royal Giants and also played one season for the New York Lincoln Giants, in 1929. He posted a .451 batting average in that 1929 season, which now ranks him second all-time for a single season. Smith would pass away at age 30 in 1932 after a short bout with yellow fever. His name is rarely mentioned among the top hitters in the game, but baseball great pitcher Satchel Paige called him one of the most dangerous hitters in Negro League history.

Smith was infected with yellow fever while playing in Cuba. This is one thing that MLB players in the same era never had to consider. Even before ballplayers were paid millions of dollars, an MLB ballplayer could make a good living just being an MLB player if he managed his money well in the pre-World War II era. With the bans on Black players playing in certain stadiums (let alone certain cities) at the time, a full season for the Negro Leagues usually was 40-50% the number of games that were played in an MLB season.

Negro League players would then “barnstorm” where they played games against local town teams and really anyone who would challenge them for months outside of league play. Cleveland’s Hall of Fame MLB pitcher Bob Feller loved participating in these barnstorming games and would rave about the quality of players he faced in Black baseball during barnstorming games, once saying that Joe DiMaggio would be on the bench for the team he faced one particular offseason that included stars like Monte Irvin, Turkey Stearnes, Buck Leonard, and Gibson, among others.

Were the Negro Leagues “inferior” leagues because they did not include white players? No more than MLB was an inferior league due to the absence of Black players. Do all researchers on Negro Leagues statistics agree right now? No, but this is an ongoing research project that has reached a point where MLB official historian John Thorn felt the integration of verified statistics was needed.

Baseball is a game where we measure everything, and often some of our best societal cues have begun on a baseball diamond. Jackie Robinson debuted more than 15 years before the historic March on Washington that pushed the plight of Black Americans into public eye like it never had been before. By the time the march occurred, every team in MLB had at least one black player on the team.

Integrating history in a way that acknowledges the splits in history but also recognizes the excellence from all involved in history equally is all that can be asked of an exhaustive examination of history, whether it’s sports history or the nation’s history as a whole.

Kendrick has more great words to celebrate the moment, but as he has many times in his role with the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, he focused on the big picture.

“This story is far more grandiose than mere statistics,” Kendrick glowed. “This story, in many ways, is bigger than the game of baseball, even though it is a tiny part of the great story of the game of baseball.”

Those are the words of a man who has been working for decades to ensure a large piece of not just baseball history, but American history is preserved and remembered seeing a big step toward just that.