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Sunday, November 29, 2020

A push to recognize the statistics of Black players from baseball’s era of apartheid

Major League Baseball is considering giving major-league status to six long-defunct Negro Leagues, where 35 Hall of Famers played during the sport’s segregated era.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Scott Simkus, a former Chicago limousine driver who spent much of the last two decades helping build a statistical database of the Negro Leagues by tracking down and chronicling box scores of once-forgotten games. “It’s long overdue, but it would be righting a wrong. It would be giving the Negro Leaguers full citizenship as professionals.”

Not everyone agrees.

“Negro Leaguers should be compared against themselves,” said Larry Lester, a pioneer of Negro League studies and the chairman of the Society for American Baseball Research’s Negro Leagues committee. “I don’t think it’s fair to rank the Negro Leaguers and the major leaguers together for the simple fact they never played against each other.”

 

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: November 29, 2020 at 10:23 PM | 51 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: negro leagues

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   1. DL from MN Posted: November 30, 2020 at 09:12 AM (#5991571)
“I don’t think it’s fair to rank the Negro Leaguers and the major leaguers together for the simple fact they never played against each other.”


Actually they did play against each other, usually in barnstorming games. Also, at this time there was no interleague play in MLB. Is it fair to compare AL and NL players? After all they never played against each other.

As the article says - the Union Association has "major league" status. There is no reason not to recognize the Negro National League if that is the case.
   2. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: November 30, 2020 at 09:39 AM (#5991578)

If they do this, one question is whether they will change the playing time requirements for the all-time leaderboards. As the article notes, recognizing Negro League stats won't have much if any effect on the counting stats leaderboards. It would effect some of the rate stat leaderboards, but I believe that's only if the playing time threshold is reduced. MLB.com says that batters must have a minimum of 5,000 PA to appear on their all-time rate stat leaderboards. BB-Ref says guys like Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard only had about 2,000 PA in the Negro Leagues, unless it's missing a lot of their numbers (and such numbers are available elsewhere).
   3. Jose Needs an Absurd Ukulele Concert Posted: November 30, 2020 at 09:50 AM (#5991580)
It's not clear to me what this would mean other than symbolically which may be enough of a reason to do it. What is the downside here? While I'm sure some will say this opens up the idea that other leagues (NPB, PCL) should be considered "Major League" I don't think that truly is the case (and frankly if that WOULD be more accurate why wouldn't we do it?). It seems to me that if we are counting the Federal League seasons as "Major League" then the Negro Leagues should be counted but I'd be curious what people who know more about both than me* have to say.

* - that would be effectively everyone.
   4. Rally Posted: November 30, 2020 at 10:35 AM (#5991584)
Actually they did play against each other, usually in barnstorming games. Also, at this time there was no interleague play in MLB. Is it fair to compare AL and NL players? After all they never played against each other.


That was a curious comment coming from Lester, who is certainly well aware of the games they played against each other. I assume it is either out of context or just not well explained.
   5. Kiko Sakata Posted: November 30, 2020 at 10:43 AM (#5991590)
BB-Ref says guys like Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard only had about 2,000 PA in the Negro Leagues, unless it's missing a lot of their numbers (and such numbers are available elsewhere).


The best source for pre-integration Negro baseball statistics is the Seamheads Negro Leagues database, which shows, for example, Josh Gibson with 3,859 career PA (which doesn't actually get him over a 5,000 PA minimum anyway, of course). Gibson's 3,859 PA there include time in the Mexican League and a couple of seasons where his American team (the Homestead Grays one year, the Pittsburgh Crawfords another) were not part of a formal league. It also includes 14 All-Star games and a few World Series.

I've been working since this past summer on a project for Retrosheet to add pre-integration Negro games to its website (I'm Retrosheet's treasurer) which we hope to do a first release of early in 2021. The initial release isn't going to include any full seasons but is mostly going to focus on higher-profile games that got somewhat better coverage - All-Star games and Championship Series - as well as interracial barnstorming games. We've talked with Larry Lester and some other folks and I would say that we're cautiously optimistic that we'll be able to get access to a lot of the box scores that underlie the Seamheads database but converting that into Retrosheet box scores (and, perhaps, a smattering of play-by-play accounts) will likely take several years.

SABR has also formed an ad hoc committee to talk about what treating the Negro Leagues as major leagues would mean for SABR. I'm on that committee (Mark Armour asked Dave Smith about having somebody represent Retrosheet on the committee). The first issue of contention there seems to be how we deal with the fact that the best Negro teams weren't always necessarily affiliated with formal leagues, even in seasons when some formal leagues existed.

To be honest, at this point, my view of all of this kind of mirrors Jose in #3. I'm not entirely sure what it means to "recognize the Negro Leagues as major leagues". But hopefully over time Retrosheet (and others) can help to bring to light and solidify as much of the statistical record for these guys as still exists out there.

   6. Ron J Posted: November 30, 2020 at 10:45 AM (#5991592)
#4 and others: Barnstorming games weren't so much team versus team as stars and guys versus stars and guys. Not sure the stats tell us much beyond the general ability level of the stars.
   7. Rally Posted: November 30, 2020 at 10:58 AM (#5991595)
I am not sure what recognizing these leagues as Major League would mean. It is certainly deserved, in that a huge number of players had the talent to have played MLB if they were allowed to.

If this means integrating the record books looks like Ty Cobb's batting average is safe. BBref uses only 3000 PA to qualify for the rate stats leaderboard. Going by Seamheads, Josh Gibson would be #2 at .365. Heavy Johnson hit .366, but a bit less than Cobb going out to 4 decimal places. He had 2135 PA, but some allowance might be made for the fewer games against league competition. Heavy did play enough seasons (1916-1932) to think he had a full career. Charlie Smith hit .398, but only 1126 PA in what was a very short career, only 7 seasons. He died young (30) of yellow fever while playing in Cuba.

For OBP, Gibson would rank 5th at .449, well behind Babe and Ted but ahead of Gehrig and Bonds. Again, Smith wins if you go down to only 1000 PA. For slugging, Josh edges the Babe by the slightest of margins, both round to .690 which is very fitting. 4 Negro League players topped the .600 mark, joining 6 MLBers.



   8. BaseballObscura Posted: November 30, 2020 at 11:08 AM (#5991597)
I think this is great personally. The idea of major league status is somewhat arbitrary, but obviously has huge implications regarding how baseball history has been organized and understood.

While writing my Union Association book, I had to reckon with the league's major league status and what it all means. It seems clear to me that the league was very top heavy, in that the top two clubs were significantly better than the rest of the league, while the top 10% of players were significantly better than the rest of the players in the league.

On a strictly quality perspective it would be hard to argue that the UA holds up as a major league, though I also discovered that the champion St. Louis Unions and second place Cincinnati Unions each played a post-season series in late October against Louisville of the American Association. Louisville had finished third in the AA largely due to a strong offense led by Pete Browning and Guy Hecker, while Hecker also won 52 games and pitched 670.2 innings with a 171 ERA+. His remarkable season is overshadowed by Old Hoss Radbourn's 59 wins that year. It seems clear that the National League was the strongest league that year, followed by the American Association, with the Unions a distant third. Radbourn's Grays demolished the New York Metropolitans in the inaugural World Series, with Radbourn winning all three games by scores of 6-0, 3-1, 12-2.

Regardless Louisville was one of the stronger clubs in baseball and Hecker was among the top pitchers in baseball.

Louisville came to Cincinnati for a two game set from October 18 to October 19. Louisville took game one by a score of 5-3, while Cincinnati won game two hitting Hecker hard and winning 8-1.

In August, shortstop Jack Glassock, pitcher Jim McCormick and catcher Fatty Briody had defected from Cleveland in the NL and joined Cincinnati for a combined sum of $10,000. The trio strengthened Cincinnati signficantly while their departure sunk an already threadbare Cleveland club. By the end of the season, Cincinnati was very likely as strong a club as St. Louis was. Not surprisingly, adding two hall of fame calibre players in their primes made their team a contender so-to speak.

The champion St. Louis nine, who had sleptwalked through the last few months of the season with little to play for, faced off against Louisville on October 24 and October 25. Louisville took the first contest 7-2, while St. Louis won 15-1 in the second game.

These are the only four contests that were played between Union Association clubs and NL or AA clubs in 1884. The record of the UA clubs was 2-2. It is a small sample size of course, but it suggests that the two top clubs in the UA at that point could hold their own against a strong established major league club.

St. Louis ended up joining the NL after a long and drawn out debate over whether Cleveland would stay in the NL or not. Cleveland more than any other club had been decimated by the UA, in the 1883 off-season, the club lost Fred Dunlap and Hugh Daily to the Unions, and the mid season defection of Glasscock et al had sunk the club on the field and left a sour taste in the mouth of the club's owners. It is almost certain the UA czar Henry Lucas and Cincinnati owner Justus Thorner had actively targeted Cleveland in hopes of weakening them and creating an opening the NL for a UA club.

Detroit was the worst club in the National League that year and Thorner had tried to gain his club entry into the NL in place of Detroit, but he played his cards wrong and was left out in the cold, frozen out of the NAtional LEague, while his UA club was frozen out of the Western League that formed in January 1885 after Lucas doublecrossed the UA to join the NL.

From an intentionality perspective, it seems clear to me that the UA was a major league. President Henry Lucas and the rest of the league organizers sought to establish themselves as a rival to the established major leagues. They put clubs in established major league cities - Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Washington and Cincinnati. The NL/AA were threatened enough that the AA hastily expanded into Washington, Brooklyn, Toledo and Indianapolis in an attempt to freeze out the UA from potential markets.

The UA also tried to sign players who were under contract or had been reserved by the NL, AA and Northwestern League clubs. Lucas in particular was very aggressive about signing or trying to sign star players. The response of the leagues was to blacklist players and try to quench the upstart league by any means necessary. It is clear that the league hoped to position themselves as a viable alternative to the NL and the AA and despite the turmoil that marred the league's opening season, their were plans to continue in 1885. The abrupt collapse of the league in January 1885, with the admittance of the Lucas and his St. Louis club to the NL was a way for the established leagues to kill off the rival circuit and consolidate their power over players. As long as the UA existed, there was a place for players to jump to when they didn't like their playing situation or their contract. By killing the UA, the NL/AA owners gained a firmer grasp over players and at the small price of letting Henry Lucas have a team in the National League.

It seems to me a similar situation to the Players League and the Federal League, where there was a real incentive for the entrenched major league clubs to put the upstart leagues under since it was a threat to their ability to control players.

For that reason alone, I think the Union Association's status as a major league is deserved.



   9. DL from MN Posted: November 30, 2020 at 11:30 AM (#5991602)
President Henry Lucas and the rest of the league organizers sought to establish themselves as a rival to the established major leagues. They put clubs in established major league cities - Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Washington and Cincinnati.


I think the Negro National League qualifies then. It was established as a rival to the major leagues and had clubs in established major league cities (Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis)
   10. Mike Webber Posted: November 30, 2020 at 01:23 PM (#5991619)
Here's a legitimate questions
if the Negro Leagues are a major league, does that make SEC Football a major league? It kind of has the same arguments right? It clearly has some star players, that are obviously as good as NFL players. Many players from college leagues immediately become stars when moved to the NFL. There are also clearly players in that league that aren't good enough to be in the NFL, and the quality of play is uneven.

The players in that league are prevented from joining the NFL until a certain age/years out of high school. They also play in major league cities - if Green Bay is a major league city the bar is very low.


And with respect to BBObscura and Pebbly Jack Glasscock, the UA is about as close to a major league as the Venezuelan Winter Leagues are. The main reason they are considered a major league was because Ernie Lanigan considered them a major league. Lanigan was an 11 year old boy in 1884, he was part of the Spinks family that ran the The Sporting News, in St. Louis. St. Louis was the team that CRUSHED that league, 94-19 record. If the Kansas City Cowboys had been the big team, or Baltimore, the 11 year old wouldn't have fallen in love with that team and the union would have be been a footnote like the Provencial League or something.

   11. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: November 30, 2020 at 01:35 PM (#5991621)
the champion St. Louis Unions and second place Cincinnati Unions
Seems like a threshold requirement for major league status might be that all the teams have different names.
   12. SoSH U at work Posted: November 30, 2020 at 01:52 PM (#5991625)
Seems like a threshold requirement for major league status might be that all the teams have different names.


That knocks out the SEC and its bounty of Tigers and Bulldogs.
   13. Kiko Sakata Posted: November 30, 2020 at 02:21 PM (#5991631)
Seems like a threshold requirement for major league status might be that all the teams have different names.


Chicago had two teams in the Negro National League in its first two seasons (1920-21): the Chicago Giants and the Chicago American Giants. St. Louis's team was also the Giants those two years. In 1922, the St. Louis Giants changed their name to the St. Louis Stars and the Chicago Giants folded, so you'd think that would have solved that problem. Except that the St. Louis Stars joined the Detroit Stars and Cleveland Tate Stars in the 1922 Negro National League.
   14. BaseballObscura Posted: November 30, 2020 at 03:29 PM (#5991661)
And with respect to BBObscura and Pebbly Jack Glasscock, the UA is about as close to a major league as the Venezuelan Winter Leagues are. The main reason they are considered a major league was because Ernie Lanigan considered them a major league. Lanigan was an 11 year old boy in 1884, he was part of the Spinks family that ran the The Sporting News, in St. Louis. St. Louis was the team that CRUSHED that league, 94-19 record. If the Kansas City Cowboys had been the big team, or Baltimore, the 11 year old wouldn't have fallen in love with that team and the union would have be been a footnote like the Provencial League or something.


Except that MLB doesn't view the Venezuelan Winter Leagues as a threat to their operations and didn't try to put them out of business. There were clear attempts by the NL/AA establishment to undermine the UA, from the rapid expansion by the AA to freeze out UA markets, to the establishment of the Day resolution that would prohibit teams from signing blacklisted players, and heightened the risk for players who jumped leagues, to the eventual negotiations with Lucas and Thorner that brought down the league.

From the NL/AA perspective, the UA was a threat to the still fledgling reserve rule and to controlling player salaries. The league also posed a threat by playing Sunday baseball, selling beer at games and offering 25 cent tickets, much as the AA had.

From a quality perspective, the UA was very top heavy, as the best few teams generally had the best players. There was also a large gap in quality between the haves and the have nots. But this was an issue in both the National League and the American Association as well, though it was likely more extreme in the UA than in any other major league save for the National Assocation (I know, not officially a major league).

The role of Ernest Lanigan, Al Spink etc. in lionizing the St. Louis Unions is definitely worth considering. Spink later claimed to have been Henry Lucas' secretary in 1884, though I can find no evidence at the time that it is true. He was one of the few advocates for the league after its demise, and he included what was the first attempt to document the league in his book the National Game in 1910. He would also occasionally include anecdotes about the league in his columns. Tim Murnane and Sam Crane, who were the player-manager the Boston Unions and Cincinnati Unions respectively, would also occasionally write about the Union Association positively in their syndicated columns.

But it seems that Lanigan's inclusion of the league as a major league in the Baseball Cyclopedia set the precedent for the league's designation as "major" in future texts.

But to my knowledge, there are no other similar leagues to the Union Association that (a) attempted to go head to head with the major leagues by signing their players and putting teams in their markets, (b) completed a full season, (c) and do not have major league status.



   15. BaseballObscura Posted: November 30, 2020 at 03:36 PM (#5991663)
Seems like a threshold requirement for major league status might be that all the teams have different names.


Hardest part in writing the book has been the fact that almost every team in the league was known as the Unions, making it hard to spice up the writing so to speak. For the record, here are the most commonly used names for each team circa 1884 newspaper coverage:

Altoona Unions
Baltimore Unions
Boston Unions
Chicago Unions / Pittsburg Unions
Cincinnati Unions
Kansas City Unions
Milwaukee Grays / Unions
Philadelphia Keystones
St. Louis Unions / Maroons
St. Paul
Washington Nationals
Wilmington
   16. Rally Posted: November 30, 2020 at 03:41 PM (#5991664)
There sure were a lot of teams called the Giants. I wonder if it was ironic in some cases, many of the stars were anything but.

Satchel was very tall. Gibson was 6'1 and very muscular. Some of the other stars:

Charleston 5-8
Willie Wells 5-9
Bullet Rogan 5-7, 160 - Great pitcher and hitter, like an Ohtani with an intact UCL.
Cool Papa 5-11, but only 157 pounds
Buck Leonard 5-10, 185 Not small but considering he was a slugging 1B that's smaller than usual for the position. Much smaller than today's stars at first, but about the same size as Don Mattingly.

   17. Kiko Sakata Posted: November 30, 2020 at 03:44 PM (#5991665)
There sure were a lot of teams called the Giants.


I read somewhere - possibly in Bill James' New Historical Abstract - that "Giants" was a code word to designate a Negro team, so a newspaper ad mentioning that the New York Lincoln Giants (*) were coming to town would clue fans in to the fact that this was a black team.

(*) - the Eastern Colored League started in 1923 with three teams in the New York / New Jersey area (out of six teams total): the New York Lincoln Giants, the Brooklyn Royal Giants, and the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants. Not confusing at all.
   18. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: November 30, 2020 at 03:56 PM (#5991668)
I read somewhere - possibly in Bill James' New Historical Abstract - that "Giants" was a code word to designate a Negro team, so a newspaper ad mentioning that the New York Lincoln Giants (*) were coming to town would clue fans in to the fact that this was a black team.

Shouldn't they have picked something that wasn't already the name of a white MLB team? "Titans" would have worked just as well.
   19. Kiko Sakata Posted: November 30, 2020 at 04:03 PM (#5991670)
Shouldn't they have picked something that wasn't already the name of a white MLB team?


Honestly, that made me skeptical of this idea, too. But, as Rally said, there really and truly were a ton of Negro teams with nicknames that included the world "Giants". Given the times, I suspect there was a racist undertone to the nickname, although, as you said, that seems inconsistent with the existence of the New York Giants. It's possible that the Lincoln and/or Royal Giants were a play on the white Giants - in the 1940s there was an NNL team the New York Black Yankees (who were sort of the bizarro Yankees, regularly finishing in or near last place), but that's the only Negro team I can think of whose nickname was obviously derived from a local white major-league team (the Birmingham Black Barons and Atlanta Black Crackers both added "black" to the nicknames of local Southern League teams).
   20. winnipegwhip Posted: November 30, 2020 at 04:49 PM (#5991680)
I think the pre 1957 Pacific Coast League should be considered as major league as well. Certainly many MLB caliber players in that league who decided to stay on the coast because the owners back east were to cheap.
   21. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: November 30, 2020 at 05:21 PM (#5991690)
I thought that one reason there were so many NeL teams called the Giants was because the first black professional team was called the Cuban Giants, and they were fairly successful and well-known.
   22. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: November 30, 2020 at 05:40 PM (#5991700)
I thought that one reason there were so many NeL teams called the Giants was because the first black professional team was called the Cuban Giants, and they were fairly successful and well-known.
...and clearly lacked effective trademark counsel.
   23. Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: November 30, 2020 at 07:47 PM (#5991724)
Atlanta Black Crackers


Lmao, talk about an oxymoron.
   24. Zach Posted: November 30, 2020 at 07:58 PM (#5991728)
I'm a fan, and I like going to the NLBM and reading about their history. But I think you'd risk obscuring the actual history by pretending that it was a direct analogue to the major leagues when it more of a cross between a regular league and an exhibition / barnstorming league.
   25. Zach Posted: November 30, 2020 at 08:08 PM (#5991731)
The Japanese league and the midcentury Pacific Coast League probably have legitimate arguments, as well.

It's a tricky thing to define: how is a major league different from *the* major leagues?

It seems like the best criteria would be
1) Apex of an organized feeder system
2) Full seasons of known and stable length
3) Financially stable teams / stable player contracts
4) Full rosters, with quality players even in role / backup positions
5) Significant numbers of top players playing there during the best part of their careers

The Negro Leagues had 5, maybe had 4, didn't have 1-3.

   26. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: November 30, 2020 at 08:11 PM (#5991732)
Atlanta Black Crackers

Lmao, talk about an oxymoron.


I'll see you and raise you.
   27. Zach Posted: November 30, 2020 at 08:12 PM (#5991734)
If you're going to go for the expansive definition, I think you should really address the question of whether Sadaharu Oh should be considered the home run king.
   28. Los Angeles El Hombre of Anaheim Posted: November 30, 2020 at 08:50 PM (#5991744)
My feeling from reading this thread is less that the Negro Leagues should be included as a major league, and more that the Union Association should not be.
   29. DL from MN Posted: November 30, 2020 at 08:59 PM (#5991745)
My feeling from reading this thread is less that the Negro Leagues should be included as a major league, and more that the Union Association should not be.


I'll go one further. It is racist to consider the Union Association a major league and not the Negro National League.
   30. SoSH U at work Posted: November 30, 2020 at 09:14 PM (#5991749)

If you're going to go for the expansive definition, I think you should really address the question of whether Sadaharu Oh should be considered the home run king.


I don't really have a feeling on this, but I've long believed he should be in the Hall of Fame.
   31. . Posted: December 01, 2020 at 08:27 AM (#5991789)
I don't have any issue with giving greater recognition to NeL stats. The stats have always been secondary to the games that are played anyway and the purpose of playing the games has never been to generate stats.

And, I mean, what can you say? The idea that professional baseball was segregated until 1947 (!!!!!!) is just hideously racist and awful and terrible and it's hard really to even fathom. That was my first thought about it when it first hit my consciousness back when and it has been my thought about it continuously ever since.

With that said, recycling this stuff and posting it on the internet so as to be able to continue the rather strange enterprise of sitting around all day calling other contemporaries racist and drumming up ancillary, side stuff for the purpose of being able to sit around all day calling other contemporaries racist is ... a bit strange. Recognizing the stats more isn't going to redeem that era, or anything close. This isn't a Tarentino movie, where you can just call some people racists today and, poof, awful racist history just kind of goes away.
   32. BaseballObscura Posted: December 01, 2020 at 02:14 PM (#5991863)
As an active member of the SABR Biographical Research and Pictorial History Committee, I both welcome and dread the potential classification of NeL as a major league. It will open up all sorts of fun research opportunities to locate photos (for the player photo index - which has attempted to locate images of every single major league + national association player) and biographical details (birth and death dates for all major league players). I expect it will be a ton of work and something of a sisyphean task however, so it gives me a bit of anxiety as well, haha.

As a general thought, much of baseball history and scholarship has been forged against the backdrop of systemic racism that permeates basically all of American history. Through that lens any sort of framework that validates a 135 year old league of dubious quality as "major" while relegating the Negro Leagues to a sort of othered, mythical, and unknowable status, is definitely problematic and worth interrogating.
   33. . Posted: December 01, 2020 at 02:27 PM (#5991868)
As an I guess maybe pedantic point, but not really, it's actually kind of bizarre that it's the "major" leagues and the "negro" leagues, which clearly implies that the major leagues were better baseball, which is a highly dubious proposition given what we know about black athletic performance once the racism ended. If segregation reoccurred tomorrow, calling the white NBA or white NFL the "major" of the two leagues would be laughable. If it became a thing wherein calling Babe Ruth's leagues "major" was the stuff of mockery and ridicule, I'd happily join in. I probably already have a time or two on these boards.

In point of fact, the leagues Ruth and Cobb and Wagner and the Waner brothers played in were bullshit leagues, with no real claim to major league status. I don't think we should hesitate to say so. It kills the romance and the poetry a bit, perhaps, but that can't really be the determining factor.
   34. . Posted: December 01, 2020 at 02:35 PM (#5991872)
And honestly it's kind of incredible that, to put it in 80s South African apartheid terms, almost to a man and every moment, with few if any serious exceptions, all the players in the bullshit leagues "played Sun City" without even a hint of remorse or second thought. Not exactly profiles in courage. Did a Ken Burns even come close to addressing this collaboration? Kinda thinking the answer is no.
   35. SoSH U at work Posted: December 01, 2020 at 02:44 PM (#5991879)
Did a Ken Burns even come close to addressing this collaboration? Kinda thinking the answer is no.


Wudja expect from a phony Red Sox fan?
   36. winnipegwhip Posted: December 01, 2020 at 03:33 PM (#5991884)
Wudja expect from a phony Red Sox fan?


As it would remove Ted Williams from the answer to the question, "Who was the last guy to hit .400?"
   37. Mike Webber Posted: December 01, 2020 at 03:35 PM (#5991885)
Hey Jason, What is the title of your Union Association book?
   38. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: December 01, 2020 at 06:35 PM (#5991931)
The idea that professional baseball was segregated until 1947 (!!!!!!) is just hideously racist and awful and terrible and it's hard really to even fathom.

I've always been of two minds concerning the Negro Leagues: (1) It's great that they existed, so that we could watch/remember a galaxy of baseball stars and (2) It's awful that they had to exist in the first place. (Geez, the name alone makes you want to take a shower.)

But the Negro Leagues were not the major leagues, for the same reason the minor leagues and Japanese and Mexican Leagues aren't/weren't the major leagues. Yes, MLB teams played exhibitions with NeL teams, but they were just that: exhibitions. When I was a kid, MLB teams would routinely play exhibition games (in-season, no less) against their minor league affiliates, and nobody ever thought those games really meant anything or should count in the standings. For a zillion bad reasons, no Negro League team ever played a truly meaningful game against a big-league team. Ever. They should've, but they didn't.

With that said, recycling this stuff and posting it on the internet so as to be able to continue the rather strange enterprise of sitting around all day calling other contemporaries racist and drumming up ancillary, side stuff for the purpose of being able to sit around all day calling other contemporaries racist is ... a bit strange.

Welcome to 2020.
   39. . Posted: December 01, 2020 at 06:53 PM (#5991934)
But the Negro Leagues were not the major leagues, for the same reason the minor leagues and Japanese and Mexican Leagues aren't/weren't the major leagues. Yes, MLB teams played exhibitions with NeL teams, but they were just that: exhibitions. When I was a kid, MLB teams would routinely play exhibition games (in-season, no less) against their minor league affiliates, and nobody ever thought those games really meant anything or should count in the standings. For a zillion bad reasons, no Negro League team ever played a truly meaningful game against a big-league team. Ever. They should've, but they didn't.


Right, but that just assumes that the white leagues were the sun around which all of baseball orbited and should be measured against and there's no reason to do that. We could just as easily say the white leagues weren't major leagues because they didn't play the Negro Leagues and that's exactly what you would say today under the segregation counterfactual, particularly in basketball and football. Satchel Paige never had to face Ted Williams ... but Ted Williams never had to face Satchel Paige.(*)(**) Seems like a push.

Basically the white leagues called themselves major leagues and most of the papers just accepted that, and they were more fussy and particular about record keeping and scheduling. There's no more there there than that.

(*) Or if old school bro-ish comedies are your thing, it's rather like Judge Smails thinking Tai Webb has to "go through me" to prove he's as good as he says he is.

(**) Actually, this isn't the greatest example because they probably did face each other. But what Satchel did as a baseball old man pretty much disposes of the idea of the whitebread league as the "major" league. Prime Satchel probably would have been the best pitcher in baseball (***) and it might not have even been all that close.

(***) The more accurate way to put that was that Prime Satchel *was* the best pitcher in baseball, but to the degree the Judge Smails's of the world needed to see him go through the whitebread leagues to prove it, he pretty clearly would have.
   40. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: December 01, 2020 at 07:11 PM (#5991937)
Right, but that just assumes that the white leagues were the sun around which all of baseball orbited and should be measured against and there's no reason to do that.

Sure there is: sheer weight of numbers. Why wouldn't a league that took its players from 85% of the population be better than a league that took its players from 15% of the population? (Unless you're saying that one race is inherently better at baseball than another, and that's a whole nother kettle of fish...)
   41. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: December 01, 2020 at 09:47 PM (#5991956)
Couple thoughts:

1) Oh as home run king: I think there is very good reason to consider him the HR King, after all, he literally has the most homers. But...Jim Albright has done a lot of research over at baseballguru.com and at baseballfever.com showing that NPB players lose about 50% of their homers on average when coming to America, and that Gaijin add around 50% more homers going the other way. It’s just a different kettle of carp.

2) The topic of the article: I’m with Larry Lester on this one in terms of what we might call the presentation of statistics. It’s a lot more than just the relative paucity of (known) PAs. The NeL are practically the most highly contextualized environment imaginable (some of the reasons are explained upthread). Far more so than, say, NPB, the UA, or the minors. So much so that i don’t think it would be helpful to the average fan or occasional fan to try to make sense of NeLers’ numbers if they were just tossed into MLB leaderboards. So many caveats would apply that it would be a slog and the numbers simply aren’t directly comparable to MLB without a lot of filtration. It’s not like the level of understanding needed to accurately compare and contextualiza numbers from the 1890s to the 2010s. It’s way beyond that. I think the symbolism of the ML designation is a helpful thing, and, perhaps if any qualifying NeLers remain alive, they might receive pension benefits or any other benefits associated with being an MLB retiree. Or, at least, MLB might fund a pension for them. There can’t be too many left to make it prohibitively expensive, and the attrition rate is only getting steeper, so it’s not a very long term investment.

3) Non-league NeL games: Someone more in tune with the narrative side of the NeLs might offer more definitive views, but my reading on the subject indicates that the AA participants in these games took them very seriously because for some it was their only opportunity to test themselves against MLB players. MLBers probably didn’t want to be shown up by outsiders, and, in some cases, by black players, so they did have incentive to play and not lallygag. (Some teams of black players played in the California Winter League against white competition that included MLBs and PCLs. This represented their other opportunity to take on MLbs.) Jeremy Beers in his bio of Oscar Charleston (good read!) says that white teams didn’t take it easy in exhibitions against black teams, and while that’s one source, I felt like the author had done quality research so I give it some weight. It appears that black teams beat mlb teams more often than they lost. I think that info should be looked at closely. In some cases the mlb team’s weren’t fully stocked with mlb players, and in other cases the black teams we’re close to if not NeL All-Star teams.

   42. BaseballObscura Posted: December 02, 2020 at 10:40 AM (#5992022)
Hey Jason, What is the title of your Union Association book?


The name is Justin btw, haha. No official title yet, I have some ideas, but am working with publisher to figure it out. Book is still being edited, hoping to have it all done in the spring.
   43. Mike Webber Posted: December 02, 2020 at 11:10 AM (#5992032)
@42 Apologize for botching your name Justin.

I tried to find it on Goodreads, but came up empty. The only "book" I ever read on the UA, was a mimeographed stapled together one about the 1884 KC team by Harold Dellinger - it doesn't even show up on Goodreads. I don't own a copy, and despite the fact that I've frequented book shops in KC for 30+ years have never seen one for sell.

Here's and article by Harold KC Unions Article from SABR BB Research Journal
Let us know when your book comes out, should be an interesting read.
   44. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: December 02, 2020 at 04:34 PM (#5992097)

Sure there is: sheer weight of numbers. Why wouldn't a league that took its players from 85% of the population be better than a league that took its players from 15% of the population? (Unless you're saying that one race is inherently better at baseball than another, and that's a whole nother kettle of fish...)


There could certainly be non-racial explanations for this. The Dominican Republic has about as many people as North Carolina or Michigan, and about half as many as Florida or New York, but there are probably more MLB players from the DR than all of those states combined right now.
   45. Howie Menckel Posted: December 02, 2020 at 04:45 PM (#5992099)
789 MLBers born in the DR

136 were active in 2020 and 49 more played in 2019 but not 2020

so DR - 789/136

NC - 442/22

MI - 441/14

FL - 576/99

NY - 1221/33

"there are probably more MLB players from the DR than all of those states combined right now."

DR 136 vs. 22 + 14 + 99 + 33 = 168

VERDICT: that's pretty close

played in 2019 OR 2020

DR 185 vs. 28 + 16 + 130 + 38 = 212, gets them a little closer

(DR may benefit a little because I presume a higher pct of their natives also grew up there, whereas players like Derek Jeter were born in NJ but was moved to MI as an infant and does not show up here)
   46. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: December 02, 2020 at 04:53 PM (#5992103)
There could certainly be non-racial explanations for this. The Dominican Republic has about as many people as North Carolina or Michigan, and about half as many as Florida or New York, but there are probably more MLB players from the DR than all of those states combined right now.

Yes, if you have an absolutely rabid culture for a sport, then you'll develop more athletes for that sport. That has to be a huge driver of the NBA's demographics. Doesn't seem to apply to the U.S. in the first half of the 20th century; baseball was wildly popular among black and white Americans.
   47. SoSH U at work Posted: December 02, 2020 at 06:28 PM (#5992120)
(DR may benefit a little because I presume a higher pct of their natives also grew up there, whereas players like Derek Jeter were born in NJ but was moved to MI as an infant and does not show up here)


That would be offset by people born in NY but who relocated to California. With two northern states and two sun belt states in that list, it would likely be closer to a wash.
   48. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: December 02, 2020 at 06:43 PM (#5992123)

Yes, I guess I was a bit off but a country of 10 million producing nearly as many players as four states with 60 million makes the same point. I suspect the other opportunities for economic/social mobility available to a group of people also plays a role in how many professional players that group produces, which could play a role in early/mid-20th century US when comparing different racial groups.
   49. Ron J Posted: December 02, 2020 at 07:17 PM (#5992129)
$48 You could see that kind of thing happening with Jewish boxers in the early 20th century. Restricted opportunities contributed to a disproportionate number of top Jewish boxers. As other options opened up they became far less common.
   50. SoSH U at work Posted: December 02, 2020 at 07:24 PM (#5992131)
You could see that kind of thing happening with Jewish boxers in the early 20th century. Restricted opportunities contributed to a disproportionate number of top Jewish boxers. As other options opened up they became far less common.


My dad used to say you could tell which group of people had the fewest economic opportunities by looking at the top of the boxing ranks (Jews at the turn of the century, followed by Italians, then African Americans, then Latinos, etc.). Getting punched in the face for a living just has less of an appeal when other avenues are available.
   51. Mike Webber Posted: December 02, 2020 at 08:19 PM (#5992148)
My dad used to say you could tell which group of people had the fewest economic opportunities by looking at the top of the boxing ranks (Jews at the turn of the century, followed by Italians, then African Americans, then Latinos, etc.). Getting punched in the face for a living just has less of an appeal when other avenues are available.


I made this point in a freshman sociology class, but actually added the Irish of the 19th century, which was not the point the prof was trying to get across. I was legitimately concerned he was going to throw me out of class.

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