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Negro Leagues

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We haven’t talked here about the decision by Major League Baseball to recognize seven Negro Leagues that played between 1920 and 1948, but there’s some interesting discussion at the Athletic and elsewhere regarding the impact that the decision will have on the record books, and thus it seems like a relevant topic for discussion. The Athletic article in particular is interesting (subscribers only, unfortunately) because it delves into some of the more difficult political issues associated with the relationship between MLB and the Negro Leagues, including issues of appropriation and the white-washing of baseball history.

As anyone vaguely familiar with the early history of baseball understands, there have been significant disagreements about which organizations consisted of “Major League baseball” in terms of statistics and official historical records. Since the late 1960s there has been general agreement that the American League, the National League, the American Association, the Players League, and Federal League and the Union Association constituted Major Leagues, leaving the National Association (which predated the National League by five years and from which both the modern Cubs and Braves originated), the Negro Leagues, and a few other marginal associations on the outside. Scholarship on the question of the Union Association has generally concluded that it was *not* an MLB caliber organization, but it is nevertheless included in most general statistical databases.

Anyway, the statistical questions here loom larger than you might expect, with one of the reasons for the historical exclusion of the Negro Leagues being the irregular fields, lineups, and schedules that a lot of the organizations were forced to play. Bringing the level of analysis of the Negro Leagues up to the standard enjoyed even by 19th century baseball will be difficult, but it’s not impossible and work is already underway.

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