MLB Officially Elevates Historical Negro Leagues to Major Leagues: 'Long Overdue Recognition'

Jen Juneau
·3 min read

Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics/Getty The Homestead Grays in 1943

The MLB has officially elevated the Negro Leagues to the Major League level.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a Wednesday statement via the organization that the decision — which will apply to the estimated 3,400 players who were part of seven initial Negro Leagues from 1920 to 1948 — was one of "long-overdue recognition."

"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," he said. "We are now grateful to count the players of the Negro Leagues where they belong: as Major Leaguers within the official historical record."

The MLB shared on Twitter that 35 Hall of Famers are now considered Major Leaguers, including Satchel Paige (1906-1982), Buck Leonard (1907-1997), Monte Irvin (1919-2016) and Oscar Charleston (1896-1954).

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Of the decision, Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, said in a statement shared by the MLB, "For historical merit, it is extraordinarily important."

"Having been around so many of the Negro League players, they never looked to Major League Baseball to validate them. But for fans and for historical sake, this is significant, it really is," he added. "So we are extremely pleased with this announcement."

"And for us, it does give additional credence to how significant the Negro Leagues were, both on and off the field," Kendrick said.

In an interview with Craig Melvin for Thursday's episode of the Today show, Kendrick said the elevation "honors those courageous owners and even-more-courageous players who played this game against the backdrop of American segregation and excelled in it."

Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics/Getty Pitcher Chet Brewer in 1935

Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics/Getty Baltimore Black Sox in 1925

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The Negro Leagues were founded in 1920 and continued on for more than a decade after Jackie Robinson broke the MLB's racist color barrier in 1947. They were first formed by "barnstorming" Black baseball clubs who traveled the country playing exhibitions, primarily in the Midwest and the South.

Because of Jim Crow laws enforcing segregation and racism, Black ballplayers weren't allowed in the white Major Leagues until Robinson famously stepped onto the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers during the '47 season.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues this past summer, former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all shared videos of themselves celebrating their favorite players from the Leagues.

"Today, I'm tipping my hat to everybody in the Negro Leagues who left a century-long legacy of talent, spirit and dignity on our country," Obama, 59, said in a video message posted to Twitter, giving specific shout-outs to players such as pitcher Paige, slugger Josh Gibson (1911-1947) and center fielder "Cool Papa" Bell (1903-1991) while donning a Chicago White Sox hat in honor of the city where he began his career.