Negro Leagues stats, explained: Why MLB is incorporating Josh Gibson, other stars’ numbers into official records

There’s a new slugging king in MLB history. His name is Josh Gibson.

Gibson will officially be recognized as baseball’s greatest-ever power hitter on Wednesday, the day when MLB will officially incorporate Negro Leagues stats into their historical records, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported Tuesday afternoon. The move comes more than three years after MLB announced it was retroactively granting Negro Leagues players major-league status.

Two thousand three hundred players took the field for Negro Leagues sides from 1920-1948. All will have their records moved into MLB’s database. In 1969, the Special Baseball Records Committee did not grant Negro Leagues’ players and teams Major League status.

Why is MLB officially incorporating Negro Leagues stats into records?

“We are proud that the official historical record now includes the players of the Negro Leagues,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “This initiative is focused on ensuring that future generations of fans have access to the statistics and milestones of all those who made the Negro Leagues possible. Their accomplishments on the field will be a gateway to broader learning about this triumph in American history and the path that led to Jackie Robinson’s 1947 Dodger debut.”

With the changes, Gibson will now be MLB’s new single-season leader in batting average (.466 in 1943), slugging percentage (.974 in 1937), and OPS (1.474 in 1937). He’ll also be MLB’s all-time leader in all three categories, surpassing Barry Bonds in the latter two for both single seasons and career.

“When you hear Josh Gibson’s name now, it’s not just that he was the greatest player in the Negro Leagues,’’ Sean Gibson, Gibson’s great grandson, told USA TODAY, “but one of the greatest of all time. These aren’t just Negro League stats. They’re major-league baseball stats.

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Gibson isn’t the only legend to receive a boost in his historical standing on account of MLB’s decision. There are a treasure cove of Negro Leaguers slated to see their place in baseball immortality ascend due to Tuesday announcement, from Negro Leagues lifers like Buck Leonard, James “Cool Papa” Bell, Oscar Charleston and Monte Irvin to players who parlayed Negro Leagues success to MLB fame like Willie Mays, Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson and Minnie Minoso.

Mays now has 3,293 hits to his name from his time playing with the Birmingham Black Barons. That number could rise if the Negro Leagues Statistical Review Committee verifies his numbers from playing in the Negro Leagues in 1949 and 1950, too. Paige, meanwhile, sees his overall win total leap from 28 to 124. He also holds the single-season ERA (1.01 in 1944 with the Kansas City Monarchs).

And for those wondering, those records will not be scorned with the wretched grasp of an asterisk. In accordance with the Special Baseball Records Committee’s 1969 ruling, “For all-time single-season records, there will be no asterisks or official signs shall be used to indicate the number of games scheduled.”

Other players who will break into the top 10 of MLB’s career leaderboards are:

Batting average

  • Oscar Charleston (.363)
  • Jud Wilson (.350)
  • Turkey Stearns (.348)
  • Buck Leonard (.345)

Slugging percentage

  • Mule Suttles (.621)
  • Turkey Stearnes (.616)
  • Oscar Charleston (.614)

On-base percentage

  • Buck Leonard (.452)
  • Oscar Charleston (.449)
  • Jud Wilson (.434)

On-base plus slugging

  • Oscar Charleston (1.063)
  • Buck Leonard (1.042)
  • Turkey Stearnes (1.033)
  • Mule Suttles (1.031)
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Earned Runs Average

  • Dave Brown (2.24)

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