Major League Baseball announced today that seven professional Negro Leagues will now be considered as full-fledged major leagues, including all the records and statistical bits and bytes that come with it. For example, the Kansas City Monarchs have now won more major-league championships than the Boston Red Sox, and who doesn’t think that’s a good idea?
It’s also good to remember that the Negro Leagues were created because the people who ran the sport back when “base ball” was two words didn’t want their game sullied by black people. And that when offered a chance to partially undo that blight in 1969, a special committee set up by baseball’s hierarchy thought it more important to honor their sworn enemies who created the antediluvian Players’ League and the Federal League by declaring them major leagues than to do the same for folks of a different skin color who never did them any harm, business or otherwise.
In other words, there’s a bit of MLB taking credit for a racist anomaly it created itself. Now, maybe it seems unfair to pin the sins of pre-war MLB actions on its current braintrust, as if MLB were a contiguous entity rather than a game with different people at different times who are capable of change. but the record books, history, and general number fetishes of the game suggest exactly that MLB is contiguous when it wants to be. They sell old-time jerseys to people with modern money at modern prices, right?
So with the acknowledgement that Major League Baseball first did this wrong more than a century ago and then compounded it 50 years ago, and at least had the minimal rhetorical decency Wednesday to call it “an error,” let us hail the Josh Gibsons and Judy Johnsons and Ray Dandridges and hundreds of other new members of the officially recognized members of the family. Let us also applaud the levels of chaos they will introduce into long-held beliefs and arguments about who was better than whom and what proof can be applied to those arguments. (Ted Williams was not the last major-leaguer to hit .400, as it turns out; Gibson was.)
Let’s also consider the fresh plight of the statisticians, who have some of the players’ records but not nearly all of them, not to mention the other organizations that have long been trying to reassemble the numerical history of the leagues that baseball didn’t want to know about. For instance, Willie Mays just gained 16 hits and lost a point of batting average with the news that his Birmingham Black Barons time is now officially major-league worthy. And Henry Aaron is now at 760 homers when you include his five homers for the 1952 Indianapolis Clowns, just in case he wants to make a comeback at age 86 to take back the record from Barry Bonds.
The compilations and reintegrations will be messy, to be sure. If a website can have weight, baseballreference.com just became Jupiter taking on the cleanup job on Saturn. Their holidays, in other words, just went straight to overtime suck. There’s a lot of WAR and OPS+ to compile here, and Satchel Paige’s resume alone will represent baseball’s version of reassembling Tenochtitlan. But this is also part of the ancillary business of making a deliberately incomplete history more inclusive and honest, and in these times, honest work is more than ever the best work.