Adding Black League statistics to Baseball-Reference is a recognition that MLB’s past is still evolving.

Philly honored the Black Leaguers last season. Now his statistics really count.
Image: Getty Images

Baseball-Reference is the gold standard for keeping records in a game whose numbers are its blood. The site that Sean Forman built has replaced decades of encyclopedias, carving a niche on the Internet as the most authoritative source for statistics to connect baseball’s past to its present. Any bar bet can now be solved with a few taps on a smartphone, any trick a baseball player wants to include in a story is just a few clicks away.

What is remarkable about this week’s addition of statistics from the Black Leagues to the vast Baseball-Reference database, and including them correctly as numbers from the major leagues, has not happened. As Forman wrote, “Our decision to resolve this omission is only a small part of the story.” The big change is to access Baseball-Reference and see numbers that you know are incomplete, so there’s still some research to be done.

But here’s the secret: Statistics for white players aren’t even written in stone.

“I think we’re probably a little more aware of the ambiguity of the white-collar statistics of the existing major leagues than most of our users will be – probably all of our users would be,” Forman told Deadspin. “I guess Ty Cobb’s total success is 4,191, more or less five. And so we don’t know, there’s still a bit of ambiguity in these numbers and a kind of editorial discretion that goes into those values. And so, you know, there’s even more, of course, with Black Major League statistics, and so it’s a case where we’re trying to pick good teammates, like the Seamheads people.Gary Ashwill and his team are phenomenal researchers and take they really have their time, and they have good reasons for the decisions they make. “

The main differences in being able to accurately compile statistics for black players from 1920-48 are in the availability of contemporary records, as well as in the structure of the leagues and the amount of barnstorming that black teams have done. This is the reason why Josh Gibson’s plate in Cooperstown refers to him touching more than 800 homers, but Baseball-Reference has listed him at 165. Only 598 Gibson games from 1930 to 46 are part of the record, then while he had a career-high 20 dingers, he still talks about a catcher with 40-homer power who led his league 11 times.

Gibson hit .466 / .560 / .867 with 20 homers and 109 RBI for the Homestead Grays in 1943 – in 69 games. And this season represents Gibson’s career high for games played, at least as far as recorded statistics say. Those numbers may or may not be among those that are updated by most searches, but knowing the limitations of the numbers that exist is definitely better than not having the numbers at all.

“We want to define a little bit of people’s expectations that these numbers will change,” Forman said. “They’ll never be 100% complete in the way we might think of the American League at the moment. And so, you know, and I’ve tried to emphasize that, we want to treat them as equivalents, but we have to understand that it’s also different. And part of this is due to the context in which they were forced to play under because of the racism of the era.And part of that is just that things were structured differently, both for systemic reasons and for other reasons. we try to be ahead of it and kind of lead with who we are on track, and we always hope to give them the weight and weight we feel they deserve. ”

Forman cites the example of the 1931 Kansas City Monarchs, who had five Hall of Famers on their list and “played a calendar that was of the quality of major laws, but they were not in a league structure.” The statistics of those teams are not included, but “that may change as we move forward.” Gibson did not play for the Monarchs, but did score 17 homers for the non-affiliated Homestead Grays from 1930 to 31, plus eight for Pittsburgh Crawford in 1932. The best accounting of Gibson’s career in Baseball- Reference, then, makes him fall. for 190 homers – it’s just a question of when and if those extra 25 are added to the record, or if those seasons remain excluded from being considered major league performances.

One change that is already on the horizon is the number of wins over the substitution, which will fluctuate as Baseball-Reference calculates park factors for the main black leagues and adds them to the WAR recipe.

“David Neft, I know him a little bit, and he edited The Baseball Encyclopedia and edited that project in 1969,” Forman said. “I always thought he would have had the pleasure of doing this research and building you these profiles. Of these players. We enjoyed doing this work here and having the opportunity to do that. … We dug in, and it’s like a sweater where you pull on a rope, and you find all sorts of different things emerging. You have to deal with that and those considerations. So it’s been a significant part of the process for us, and it will be. “

With the site built on a love for research and the game, Baseball-Reference comes from the right place. The statistics for Black baseball stars in the first half of the 20th century could never be completely complete, but the point is to get the best information possible, as is the case when you go back in history to watch white baseball in the 19th century. We never know the first name of Jones, the third baseman who played a game for the New York Metropolitans on April 30, 1885, but we do know that he went 1 for 4, made two putouts and recorded four assistants on the hot side. It doesn’t make Jones less of a major link, but we have to accept what we have for the story, the less it is until the research comes back more.

What this adds to the story we have access to could, tangibly, be pushing a couple of Hall of Fame cases over the line, such as the long snubbed Minnie Miñoso and Don Newcombe. Whether or not it results in additional plates in Cooperstown, including black baseball in the records, as equals, not as “elevating,” is a significant change in how people will learn about the game going forward.

For most adults now, “modern baseball” began both in 1901, with the formation of the American League, and in 1920, with the dawn of the era of live dance. Not only are we now further away from those dates, with the game having changed significantly in the last century, but a bigger point on the era of segregation should lead us to think about the modern era of MLB as it begins later. .

Maybe it was 1947, when Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby debuted in National and American Law. Maybe it was 1959, when Pumpsie Green joined the Boston Red Sox and there were finally no more white teams in the major leagues. Maybe it was only a couple of years later, in 1961, with the beginning of the era of expansion.

“We had a preset on the season finder for Integration Era on our finders for Stathead (the premium Sports Reference service),” Forman said. “It’s for this reason. Some of the reviews you see are, you know, only 60 games, but there should be equal reviews of Babe Ruth’s numbers. And you see it sometimes. People make this point. But there are a lot of arguments that go in both ways – everything you can say about black major leagues, anything you can say about white major leagues. So I think – I hope – this will lead to a lot more discussion about these players. And I think he already has, and I think more discussions and more information will be a good thing. That’s what we’re looking for. We want to provide a resource to users who are interested in this material and who want to find out about this material. That’s really our goal, since I started the site 21 years ago. ”

The goal remains the same. Adding black baseball records was just the next step in working to make a record as complete as possible of a sport that has been connected for centuries through its numbers.

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