Black baseball players of yore get their due, at last

“GREAT NEGRO-LEAGUE stars have stood on those very grounds,” says Bob Kendrick, head of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, about Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, New Jersey. “It just hits you.” Hinchliffe was once home to the New York Black Yankees, among others. Black and brown athletes played there when Major League Baseball (MLB) did not allow them to do so alongside white players. Visiting legends like Josh Gibson, often called the “Black Babe Ruth”, wowed fans.

FILE – Baseball catcher Josh Gibson in an undated photo. Josh Gibson became Major League Baseball’s career leader with a .372 batting average, surpassing Ty Cobb’s .367, when records of the Negro Leagues for more than 2,300 players were incorporated after a three-year research project. (AP Photo/File)(AP)

Last week MLB acknowledged the statistics of more than 2,300 players who competed in the Negro Leagues between 1920 and 1948. That changed some long-held records. Gibson is now the leader in all-time career batting average and slugging percentage, overtaking Ty Cobb and Ruth.

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“It is long overdue recognition,” says Mr Kendrick. The players knew how good they were—as did MLB. Black teams won the majority of the exhibition games in which great black and white players went head to head.

On June 20th MLB will salute the Negro League in Rickwood Field, once home to the Birmingham Black Barons. The San Francisco Giants and the St Louis Cardinals will don Negro League uniforms in a televised game, which will also honour Willie Mays, a Hall of Famer who began his professional career with the Barons. Gibson never got to play in MLB. He died a few months before Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in 1947. 

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