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What MLB’s recognition of the Negro Leagues means for Leon Day, Roy Campanella and other Baltimore standouts

With snow falling in Baltimore on Wednesday and no baseball games to be played, a few players with ties to the city still found their way into the major league record books.

Major League Baseball announced Wednesday it was officially recognizing seven professional Negro Leagues as major leagues, meaning the more than 3,000 players who participated in those segregated leagues from 1920 to 1948 will be categorized as majors leaguers and have their statistics reported accordingly. MLB’s statement on the recognition referred to it as “correcting a longtime oversight.”

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The Negro Leagues’ 100th anniversary was celebrated earlier this year, and the Orioles plan to recognize it again next season with a giveaway of a cap for the Baltimore Elite Giants, one of two Negro League teams in the city along with the Baltimore Black Sox.

MLB and the Elias Sports Bureau, the league’s official statistician, will work with historians and researchers to determine the full scope of what this recognition means for the major leagues’ statistical history. It’s not yet clear which statistics MLB will pull to add to its own records, given that reconstruction of Negro Leagues stats has been dependent on old box scores and third-party efforts, such as Seamheads Negro Leagues Database. But here’s a look at what the changes might mean for some of Baltimore’s top Negro Leagues standouts.

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Leon Day

Regarded as one of the top pitchers in Negro Leagues history, Day, who grew up in Baltimore and played for the Black Sox and Elite Giants, never reached what in his time was considered the major leagues, but he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995, days before he died at 78 years old. He garnered comparisons to Babe Ruth for his successes as both a pitcher and a batter, playing center field and second base in addition to his work on the mound.

Among the notable distinctions Day could soon hold after Wednesday’s announcement: He joins Bob Feller as the only major league pitchers to throw a no-hitter on Opening Day. While playing for the Newark Eagles on May 5, 1946, he held the Philadelphia Stars hitless in a 2-0 victory in what was his first start after missing the 1944 and 1945 seasons serving in World War II.

It’s not yet clear whether MLB will include stats from only the Negro Leagues’ regular-season contests, but if all-star games are included, Day’s 14 strikeouts, the most in the Negro Leagues, would be tied for the third most among all major leaguers, matching Orioles legend Jim Palmer.

Even before Wednesday’s news, Day was honored in the city, with a West Baltimore park named for him.

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Roy Campanella

Fewer than 300 major leaguers have driven in at least 1,000 runs in their careers. Wednesday’s announcement could make Campanella, a former Elite Giant, one of them.

Campanella reached the majors and starred for the Brooklyn Dodgers, winning three MVPs and being elected into the Hall of Fame.

Campanella spent most of his Negro Leagues career in Baltimore, compiling at least 171 RBIs, according to Seamheads. Add those to the 856 he recorded with the Dodgers, and his career total exceeded 1,000. His career home run total would also rise by almost 20, while his career batting average will also increase from .276, as he hit .323 in the Negro Leagues.

Jud Wilson

In nine seasons with the Black Sox, Wilson, a corner infielder, hit .389, with a batting average of at least .399 in each of his final three seasons with the club, according to Seamheads.

Nicknamed “Boojum” for the sound his hits made hitting outfield walls, Wilson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006, more than four decades after his death. He had a career .357 average in Negro Leagues play, among the highest in history according to Seamheads and a mark that would rank third in the MLB record books behind only Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby.

Other notable achievements

  • The longest no-hitter in major league history now belongs to a Baltimore player. Black Sox pitcher Joe Strong worked all 11 innings of a 2-1 victory over Hilldale in the first game of a doubleheader July 31, 1927. A pair of errors on the infield produced the only run against him, while Wilson sent the game to extras with a home run in the eighth.
  • New York Yankees right-hander Don Larsen is credited with the only postseason perfect game in MLB history, and while that remains true, he no longer pitched the first playoff no-hitter. In a game played at Baltimore’s Maryland Baseball Park, Atlantic City’s Claude “Red” Grier no-hit the Chicago American Giants in Game 3 of the 1926 Colored World Series.
  • Joe Black was the 1952 National League Rookie of the Year of the Year for the Dodgers, but before that, he’d already pitched more than 400 major league innings for the Elite Giants. Jim Gilliam won the same award with Brooklyn the next year, hitting six home runs in 1953 after hitting none in three years with the Elite Giants from 1946-48.
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