Panel recommends 7 Negro Leagues for major league status

Players and staff from the Monarchs and the Hilldale baseball teams before the opening game of the 1924 Colored World Series, Kansas City, Mo., Oct. 11, 1924. (From the William A. Gladstone collection of African American photographs Panoramic photogr (Public Domain)

A task force of the Society for American Baseball Research has recommended conferring major league status on seven Negro Leagues.

SABR established the task force in December after Major League Baseball announced on Dec. 16 that it was reclassifying the Negro Leagues as majors. In 1969, a special committee on baseball records identified six official major leagues dating to 1876. But at that time, the committee excluded the Negro Leagues.

"It is MLB's view that the Committee's 1969 omission of the Negro Leagues from consideration was clearly an error that demands today's designation," the league said in its December announcement.


SABR recommended the change in status for the following leagues:

  • Negro National League I, 1920–1931
  • Negro National League II, 1933–1948
  • Negro American League, 1937–1948
  • Eastern Colored League, 1923–1928
  • American Negro League, 1929
  • East-West League, 1932
  • Negro Southern League, 1932

SABR used these criteria in making its recommendation: "a league of high quality, containing a large number of the best available baseball players, with a defined set of teams and a defined roster of players. Teams should have played a set schedule, with the league maintaining standings and records, some of which may no longer be available."

"SABR and its members are committed to the preservation and accurate telling of all of baseball's history," CEO Scott Bush said in a statement.

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MLB and its statistician, the Elias Sports Bureau, have started a review process. These are examples of how the stats of prominent players could change:

  • Willie Mays could be credited with 17 hits from his 1948 season with the Alabama Black Barons.
  • Monte Irvin could see his career average climb from .293 to .304 if numbers listed at Baseball Reference from his nine Negro League seasons are accurate.
  • Satchel Paige, currently is credited with 28 major league wins, could add at least 146 to his total.
  • Josh Gibson's .441 batting average in 1943 would be the best season mark ever, edging Hugh Duffy's .440 from 1894. Gibson's average came in fewer than 80 games, which is far short of the modern standard of 162.

The Negro Leagues began to dissolve one year after Jackie Robinson broke MLB's color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

"While the skill of Negro Leaguers has never been in question," Bush said, "this change helps ensure these players are aligned with their rightful peers and provides guidance on how to better tell the story of segregated baseball."

MLB: Negro Leagues were a major league


SABR's task force will continue to study other teams and leagues from the sport's segregated era, which includes pre-1920 and post-1948, and top independent Black teams, which often laced up against white major-league players and teams in the 1930s.

"Some Black baseball teams were forced to operate independently in order to survive, as the color barrier enacted by White officials both necessitated the Negro Leagues' existence and later led to their demise," SABR said in a statement.


SABR is revising its Style Guide to explain how writers, editors, and fact-checkers for the Baseball Research Journal and all other SABR publications should use the terms "Major League" and "major league."

"Future SABR research should take care that any claims it makes about the 'major leagues' — best second baseman of the 1920s, number of New Yorkers who have won batting titles — includes all of the major leagues unless care is taken with how the claim is specified," SABR said in its statement. "The task force will be soliciting feedback from SABR's research committee chairs on how this designation will affect their work."


The SABR task force includes Board President Mark Armour (task force chairman), Gary Ashwill, Cliff Blau, Scott Bush, Bill Carle, Sean Forman, Gary Gillette, Leslie Heaphy, Ted Knorr, Sean Lahman, Larry Lester, Trent McCotter, Todd Peterson, Jacob Pomrenke, Anthony Salazar, Cecilia Tan, and Tom Thress.

With The Associated Press