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MLB reclassifies Negro Leagues as major league

NEW YORK — Willie Mays will add some hits to his record, Monte Irvin’s big league batting average should climb over .300, and Satchel Paige might add nearly 150 victories to his total.

Josh Gibson, the greatest of all Negro League sluggers, might just wind up with a major league record too.

The statistics and records of greats such as Gibson, Paige and roughly 3,400 other players are set to join Major League Baseball’s books after MLB announced Wednesday that it is reclassifying the Negro Leagues as a major league.

MLB said Wednesday that it was “correcting a longtime oversight in the game’s history” by elevating the Negro Leagues on the centennial of their founding. The Negro Leagues consisted of seven leagues, and MLB will include records from those circuits between 1920 and 1948. The Negro Leagues began to dissolve one year after Jackie Robinson became MLB’s first Black player with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Those leagues were excluded in 1969 when the Special Committee on Baseball Records identified six official “major leagues” dating to 1876.

“It is MLB’s view that the Committee’s 1969 omission of the Negro Leagues from consideration was clearly an error that demands today’s designation,” the league said in a statement.

MLB will work with the Elias Sports Bureau to review Negro Leagues statistics and records and figure out how to incorporate them into major league history. There was no standard method of record-keeping for the Negro Leagues, but there are enough box scores to stitch together some of its statistical past.

For instance, Mays could be credited with 16 hits from his 1948 season with the Alabama Black Barons. Irvin, a teammate of Mays’ with the New York Giants, could see his career average climb from .293 to .304 if numbers listed at Baseball-Reference.com from his nine Negro League seasons are accurate. And Paige, who currently is credited with 28 major league wins, should add at least 146 to his total.

“All of us who love baseball have long known that the Negro Leagues produced many of our game’s best players, innovations and triumphs against a backdrop of injustice,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “We are now grateful to count the players of the Negro Leagues where they belong: as Major Leaguers within the official historical record.”

While some have estimated Gibson slugged more than 800 homers during 16 Negro League seasons, it’s unlikely that enough records exist for him to officially pass Barry Bonds for the career record at 762.

Depending on what Elias and MLB rule, though, Gibson could wind up with another notable record. His .441 batting average in 1943 would be the best season mark ever, edging Hugh Duffy’s .440 from 1894. Gibson’s line came in fewer than 80 games, however, far short of the modern standard of 162.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled by this recognition of the significance of the Negro Leagues in Major League Baseball history,” said Edward Schauder, legal representative for Gibson’s estate and co-founder of the Negro Leagues Players Association. “Josh Gibson was a legend who would have certainly been a top player in the major leagues if he had been allowed to play.”

MLB said it considered input from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the Negro Leagues Researchers and Authors Group, and studies by other baseball authors and researchers.

“The perceived deficiencies of the Negro Leagues’ structure and scheduling were born of MLB’s exclusionary practices, and denying them major league status has been a double penalty, much like that exacted of Hall of Fame candidates prior to Satchel Paige’s induction in 1971,” baseball historian John Thorn said. “Granting MLB status to the Negro Leagues a century after their founding is profoundly gratifying.”

Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, also praised Wednesday’s announcement.

“The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is thrilled to see this well-deserved recognition of the Negro Leagues. In the minds of baseball fans worldwide, this serves as historical validation for those who had been shunned from the Major Leagues and had the foresight and courage to create their own league that helped change the game and our country too,” Kendrick said in a statement.

“This acknowledgement is a meritorious nod to the courageous owners and players who helped build this exceptional enterprise and shines a welcomed spotlight on the immense talent that called the Negro Leagues home.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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