Jun 16, 2021 - Sports

Baseball Reference adds Negro Leagues statistics to database

Josh Gibson slides into home during the 1944 East-West All-Star Game of the Negro Leagues at Chicago's Comiskey Park.
Josh Gibson slides into home during the 1944 East-West All-Star Game of the Negro Leagues at Chicago's Comiskey Park. Photo: Bettmann Archives/Getty Images

Baseball Reference, the stat-checking holy grail that's part of the Sports Reference ecosystem, launched its expanded Negro League coverage on Tuesday.

The backdrop: Last December, MLB granted major league status to the seven, distinct Negro Leagues, with stats from 1920 to 1948 becoming an official part of major league history.

Why it matters: "Our intent is to have consistent treatment across the white major leagues and the Black major leagues," Sports Reference founder and president Sean Forman tells Axios.

  • With the help of Seamheads (another database), Baseball Reference has added 2,000+ new Negro League players, integrating their stats alongside their major league peers.
  • As a result, the all-time adjusted OPS+ leaderboard now includes three Negro Leaguers in the top 10, and Pirates SS Arky Vaughan is now the only non-Negro Leaguer among 1935's top 10 batters.

Between the lines: "The Negro Leagues derived their meaning from the injustice that was imposed upon them, and from everyone involved triumphing over that injustice," Bob Costas said on a recent episode of "Real Time with Bill Maher."

  • "But you can't automatically just blend those stats with big league stats," he added. "A generation or two down the road, if that's all you're looking at, you will have lost the meaning of the Negro Leagues."
  • Baseball Reference took this into account, commissioning articles from Negro League experts and launching a podcast to help provide that all-important context.

What they're saying: "One of the things we're trying to stress is these leagues are not less than, but they're different," says Forman. "The stats are not the whole story, but a lead-in to what these players were about."

  • There are some limitations, including a lack of game-level data, but "we believe this is a jumping off point for a lot of future research that needs to be done," says Forman.

Dive in: With all this data finally available, may we recommend a few players to begin your Negro Leagues education?

  • Josh Gibson is the obvious one, and his page is positively Trout-esque with all that bold ink (representing a league-best mark for that season).
  • Bullet Joe Rogan "was Shohei Ohtani, but he did it for 15 years," says Forman. His page looks like a misprint.
  • Oscar Charleston joins Gibson, Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams as the only players to win multiple batting Triple Crowns.

Go deeper: The Negro National League's lasting legacy, 100 years on

Go deeper