On Tuesday, Baseball Reference announced that it has dramatically expanded its coverage of the Negro Leagues and historical Black major league players.
For former Orioles outfielder Adam Jones, the project was a labor of love.
Jones, a five-time All-Star in Baltimore, has been a longtime supporter of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and was one of the first to review the expanded Baseball-Reference.com website, which now includes Major Negro Leagues (from 1920 to 1948) listed with the National League and American League as major leagues.
“There’s so much history in the Negro Leagues and that’s what has always interested me,” said Jones, who plays for the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan. “Society just dumbs it down to Jackie Robinson and leaves it at that. But there are the players who didn’t have the chance to play in the American or National Leagues during their careers like Rube Foster, Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard, Leon Day and many, many more. And there are people who don’t necessarily know about the Negro Leagues careers of players like Larry Doby, Satchel Paige and Minnie Miñoso.
“That’s why I think it’s fantastic to have all of that information accessible to everybody. It’s the history of the whole game, not just part of it.”
In an essay accompanying the announcement of the expanded coverage, alongside articles from prominent Negro League historians, family members of Black baseball players and others, Jones details his introduction to Negro League history and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and his passion for Black history.
“People need to know about the perseverance of these men,” Jones wrote. “They were willing to play in front of anyone who was willing to show up. But they couldn’t go eat at local restaurants. They couldn’t stay at local hotels.
“Perseverance. If you did something like that now, in the current climate of the world, there’d be so much uproar. But back then, they just said, ‘OK, we’ll do what we gotta do. We came here to play ball, that’s what we want to do and we will go and stay where we need to stay, be together, go eat a good meal and mind our own business.’
“But for me, thinking about all the things that they went through, it’s a tough pill to swallow knowing that some people just see you as an entertainer and nothing more.”
In December 2020, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred similarly announced a new MLB policy, recognizing the Negro Leagues as major leagues.
Baseball Reference notes that the Negro Leagues data is not complete. The wages, travel, playing conditions, press coverage and record-keeping were inconsistent and varied, primarily due to systemic racism, the site said. Additionally, Negro League teams played an extensive amount of barnstorming games that were not part of their league schedule and therefore not included in the database at this time.
These new statistics have also been incorporated into the Baseball Reference leader boards, as appropriate. For example, Oscar Charleston (184) is now third all-time in OPS+ (adjusted on-base plus slugging) with Turkey Stearnes (177) sixth and Mule Suttles (172) 10th. As more data is uncovered, Josh Gibson (215) might surpass the 3,000-plate appearance leader board minimum and climb to the top of the list.
The site also launched a podcast called “The Negro Leagues Are Major Leagues” hosted by sports historian Curtis Harris. The limited series podcast will feature weekly guests over the summer, including Adrian Burgos and Sean Gibson, furthering the conversation around topics such as the preservation of Negro Leagues history, women playing pivotal roles in the success of Black baseball, and how the Negro Leagues changed baseball culture.
“Baseball Reference is not bestowing a new status on these players or their accomplishments. The Negro Leagues have always been major leagues, and we are changing our site’s presentation to properly recognize this fact,” said Sports Reference president Sean Forman. “The Negro Leagues are not less than the American and National Leagues; they are different, and our work recognizes this as we implement these changes.”