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Baseball Reference incorporates Negro Leagues stats into majors in site redesign

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Baseball Reference: “The Negro Leagues have always been major leagues. We are changing our site’s presentation to properly recognize this fact.”

Roy Campanella Standing in a Dugout

Baseball Reference has long been the go-to for baseball statistics, and on Tuesday underwent a site redesign. Negro Leagues statistics are now presented as major league stats on the site.

“We are not bestowing a new status on these players or their accomplishments. The Negro Leagues have always been major leagues,” said an announcement on the site. “We are changing our site’s presentation to properly recognize this fact.”

Among those presentation changes can be seen in various players. Roy Campanella’s player page now lists his eight Negro Leagues seasons — beginning at age 15 with the Washington Elite Giants — along with his 10 years with the Dodgers in his major league record. The Hall of Fame catcher led the Negro National League in games played, runs scored, doubles, RBI, walks, batting average, and on-base percentage in 1945, just before he signed with Brooklyn.

Joe Black, the 1952 National League Rookie of the Year with the Dodgers, has his six years with the Baltimore Elite Giants — with whom he was an All-Star in 1947-48 — prominently displayed on his page. Same for Jim Gilliam, whose number 19 is retired by the Dodgers. His three years (1946-48) with Baltimore at ages 17-19 are on his page.

Baseball Reference founder and president Sean Forman was a guest on the most recent Effectively Wild podcast at FanGraphs to discuss the site changes.

These stats do come with a caveat:

The Negro Leagues data is not complete. While the quality of play in the Negro Leagues was on a major league level, the wages, travel, playing conditions, press coverage, and record-keeping were more varied, primarily due to systemic racism. Additionally, Negro League teams played a shorter regular season schedule, but with an extensive amount of exhibitions and barnstorming games that made for seasons that often approached 200 or more games in total. These contests were not part of their league schedule and are therefore not included in this database. This is why Josh Gibson’s Hall of Fame plaque says that he hit “almost 800 home runs” while our data shows 165.

There are still several things to marvel at. Oscar Charleston is now listed as having the fourth-best OPS (1.063) in major league history, and third in OPS+ (184), slotting in just ahead of Barry Bonds in both categories.

Or Josh Gibson’s page.

“It used to always be like, ‘Was Josh Gibson considered one of the greatest Black baseball players?’” Josh Gibson’s great grandson Sean told James Wagner of the New York Times. “Well, now we can say Josh is considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time.”