Baseball Reference, a Sports Reference website that serves as a complete source for baseball history, including major league player, team, and league stats, awards, records, leaders, rookies and scores, has dramatically expanded its coverage of the Negro Leagues and historical Black major league players. Beginning today, Tuesday, June 15, Major Negro Leagues (from 1920-1948) are now listed with the National League and American League as major leagues.
“Baseball Reference is not bestowing a new status on these players or their accomplishments. The Negro Leagues have always been major leagues, and we are changing our site’s presentation to properly recognize this fact,” said Sports Reference President Sean Forman. “The Negro Leagues are not less than the American and National Leagues; they are different, and our work recognizes this as we implement these changes.” In keeping with the company’s mission and values, when it comes to this endeavor, Sports Reference’s intent is to celebrate the players, teams, and leagues added to its site, as well as to educate its users about the history of these leagues.
Spurred on by thoughtful commentary on this matter last summer, as well as Major League Baseball’s announcement in December of 2020 of its new policy recognizing the Negro Leagues as major leagues, Sports Reference has been working diligently to incorporate this long overdue and critical part of the sport’s history into Baseball-Reference.com in a manner consistent with the major league level these leagues played at, acting with the utmost respect for the players, their families, the researchers, and the fans of these leagues.
“Although much of our work at Sports Reference is heavily stats-driven, we recognize that the history and the legend and lore of many of these players exists beyond the numbers,” Forman noted. “Thus, to celebrate that legacy, we have commissioned numerous articles from Negro League experts, historians, journalists, former players, family members and others to explain this part of baseball history.”
One of those family members is Sean Gibson, the great-grandson of baseball legend Josh Gibson, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. In addition to advocating for the legacies of the on-field careers for Negro League players like his great-grandfather, Sean honors their legacies off the field as the Executive Director of the Josh Gibson Foundation, supporting programs that help children of every level of ability reach their potential.
“It is important to recognize the tireless efforts of the families of Negro Leaguers who have kept the players front and center for many years. Some, like my family, established non-profits to honor their family’s Negro League player and also to do good for the community,” Gibson noted.
“We are immensely grateful to Sean Forman and his colleagues who labored diligently in conjunction with Seamheads and the Society of American Baseball Research to build this platform. For those with little or no knowledge of the Negro Leagues and the era in which they took place, the story must be told. We know there is more research to be done as we build on the significant work now in place. We appreciate Sports Reference for being part of this process.”
President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum Bob Kendrick co-authored a piece for the site along with journalist Joe Posnanski. In it, they discuss the importance of looking at the numbers, while also taking into account the stories behind the statistics and preserving that important part of history.
“Here at the museum, we are thrilled that MLB has finally acknowledged what we already knew to be true — that the Negro Leagues were indeed Major League. We are particularly happy that the numbers of these legendary players will become a part of the official record and, undoubtedly, people will become more curious about these players’ stories. And that’s where we at the museum come in. Go to their Baseball Reference pages and learn a bit about them. Then come to Kansas City and discover the extraordinary full story,” Kendrick said.
Former MLB outfielder and five-time All-Star Adam Jones has been a long-time supporter of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and was one of the first to review the site. “There’s so much history in the Negro Leagues and that’s what has always interested me. Society just dumbs it down to Jackie Robinson and leaves it at that. But there are the players who didn’t have the chance to play in the American or National Leagues during their careers like Rube Foster, Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard, Leon Day and many, many more. And there are people who don’t necessarily know about the Negro Leagues careers of players like Larry Doby, Satchel Paige and Minnie Minoso. That’s why I think it’s fantastic to have all of that information accessible to everybody. It’s the history of the whole game, not just part of it,” he said. Jones currently plays for the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan.
“It is long overdue that players from the Negro Leagues have their statistics counted along with Major League Baseball players. We know that these players would’ve been able to make positive impacts throughout MLB based on the results of barnstorming games and exhibitions against Major League teams. It is their rightful and deserved place in our game’s history and it is my hope that integrating their statistics encourages more people to learn about those who played in the Negro Leagues,” agreed Philadelphia Phillies centerfielder and five-time All-Star Andrew McCutchen.
In addition to the work currently found on Baseball-Reference.com, the site launched a podcast today called “The Negro Leagues Are Major Leagues” hosted by sports historian Curtis Harris. The limited series podcast will feature weekly guests over the summer, including Adrian Burgos and Sean Gibson, furthering the conversation around topics such as the preservation of Negro Leagues history, women playing pivotal roles in the success of Black baseball, and how the Negro Leagues changed baseball culture. Listeners can find this podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and other podcatchers.
Sports Reference will also co-host two upcoming webinars that are available to the public:
- National Baseball Hall of Fame
- Date: Tuesday, June 22 at Noon EST
- Moderator: Bruce Markusen, Manager of Digital and Outreach Learning at the Baseball Hall of Fame
- Participants: Sean Forman, president of Sports Reference; Gary Ashwill of Seamheads.com; and Tom Shieber, curator of the Baseball Hall of Fame
- Where: Visit https://baseballhall.org/events to
- Society for American Baseball Research (SABR)
- Date: Saturday, June 26 at 3 m. EST
- Moderator: Ray Doswell, VP-Curatorial Services at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
- Participants: Sean Forman, president of Sports Reference; Gary Ashwill of Seamheads.com; and Larry Lester, chairman of SABR’s Negro League Committee
- Where: Visit org/summer to register.