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Major League players are praising the inclusion of the Negro Leagues’ statistics in the Major League records

CHICAGO – Buck Leonard. Charlie ‘Chino’ Smith. Turkey Stearnes.

Baseball players and fans alike are learning more about the Negro Leagues after the statistics of more than 2,300 players – historical figures such as Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Satchel Paige and Mule Suttles – were entered into the Major League record book after three years of research.

“You get to know a lot of names and a lot of people that we may not have heard of before,” Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen said Wednesday. “With Josh Gibson at the top of OPS and batting average and a few other categories, that’s great news. But it’s more than just that and the numbers. It’s great that you are now learning more about the players in the Negro Leagues. …I’ll be able to dive deeper into some names I may not have heard of before.

A 17-member committee chaired by John Thorn, Major League Baseball’s official historian, met six times as part of the painstaking process of examining the statistics of seven Negro leagues from 1920-1948. According to MLB, nearly 75% of the available records have been included and additional research could lead to more changes in the Major League rankings.

“It’s really exciting,” Cincinnati Reds pitcher Hunter Greene said. “I’m going to have to do a little more research and understand some of the history to be able to rewire my brain about some of the best players.”

Gibson became the majors’ career batting average of .372, surpassing Ty Cobb’s .367. Gibson’s .466 average for the 1943 Homestead Grays became the single-season record, followed by Smith’s .451 for the 1929 New York Lincoln Giants.

The mighty Gibson also became the career leader in slugging percentage (.718) and OPS (1.177), edging Babe Ruth (.690 and 1.164).

“Baseball history is part of American history, and I think the major leagues recognizing and integrating the Negro Leagues is a huge step in bringing together all parts of baseball history,” said Tyrus Cobb, great-grandson of Ty Cobb. “And I think it’s actually quite exciting that there’s a new statistical leader in batting average.”

After seeing the news, Tyrus Cobb, 32, of San Jose, California, said he took a closer look at Gibson’s career.

“I made sure to look up him and Oscar Charleston and some of the other guys who ended up at the top of the list,” said Cobb, who works in commercial real estate. “So I think it’s very exciting for baseball history.”

The incorporation of the Negro League statistics also changed the number of players known more for their Major League careers.

Willie Mays added 10 hits from the 1948 Birmingham Black Barons, bringing his total to 3,293. Minnie Minoso scored 150 goals for the New York Cubans between 1946 and 1948, bringing his total to 2,113. Jackie Robinson, who broke the majors’ color barrier with the 1947 Dodgers, was credited with 49 hits with the 1945 Kansas City Monarchs, increasing his total to 1,567.

“It’s a good thing for the game,” Washington Nationals pitcher Josiah Gray said. “For the Negro League players of the past, who were exceptional at what they did, it’s good to be pulled into the light. It’s really cool to see Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston and a lot of other names that baseball fans can learn more about and for them to see that there was more than Major League baseball back then.”

The change comes as the majors are experiencing a decline in the number of black players. A study by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport in Central Florida found that Black or African American players represented 6.2% of players on Opening Day rosters in 2023, up from 7.2% in 2022. Both figures were the lowest since the survey began in 2023. 1991, when 18% of MLB players were black.

The St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants play a tribute to the Negro Leagues on June 20 at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

“I think it’s pretty cool that you’re showing recognition,” Giants pitcher Jordan Hicks said. “They were two different leagues, but at the end of the day it’s still baseball, and whenever they came together you saw the guys who stood out in the Negro Leagues really perform in the MLB. So I think it’s fair that if they were still the same guy in the Negro Leagues as they were in the MLB, those stats would have to match, especially if it was in the same era.

Brett Tinker, 56, of Nyack, New York, heard stories about the Negro Leagues from his grandfather, Harold “Hooks” Tinker, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, who played for the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Harold Tinker shared his love for the sport. He told his grandson that they often had to stay on the team bus because they couldn’t get to a hotel, and he also showed off his collection of memorabilia.

When Brett Tinker heard about the inclusion of the Negro League statistics, he was moved to tears.

“It’s an honor. It’s too late, not only for my grandfather, but also for many of those players who never had the chance to get that recognition,” he said.

AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum, AP Sports Writer Beth Harris and freelance reporters Dana Gauruder, Ben Ross, Bill Trocchi and Gary Schatz contributed to this report.

AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB

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