Jared Kraus' "Personification" painting of Josh Gibson. Jared Kraus’ “Personification”: The oil painting on canvas of Josh Gibson was titled as such based on a newspaper quote by Wendell Smith, who called Gibson the “personification of destruction and devastation.” (Dave Clark/The Cincinnati Enquirer, via USA Today Sports.)

Back in December 2020, Major League Baseball announced they would include the Negro Leagues in their collection of “major leagues.” That ranked them alongside the current American and National League and the past American Association (1882-1891), the Union Association (1884), the Players League (1890) and the Federal League (1914-15), which were given that status in 1969 by an all-white Special Baseball Records Committee.

One of the most tangible parts of that major league distinction is for the purposes of statistics and records. At that time, MLB announced that stats from seven different leagues under the Negro Leagues umbrella, between 1920 and 1948, would be eventually be incorporated into the official MLB record book. But the timeframe for that integration was never specified.

On Tuesday, though, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that that integration is set to come Tuesday. And Nightengale noted that it will make Negro Leagues star Josh Gibson the record-holder for single-season batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base-percentage plus slugging percentage (OPS). Here’s more from Nightengale’s piece:

“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 Sports, “but one of the greatest of all time. These aren’t just Negro League stats. They’re major-league baseball stats.

“This means so much for not only the Josh Gibson family, but representing the 2,300 men in the Negro Leagues who didn’t get the opportunity to play [in the Major Leagues].’’

…Gibson’s .466 batting average for the 1943 Homestead Grays is now the best in MLB history, eclipsing Hall of Famer Hugh Duffy (.440) in 1894, who dropped to third. Fellow Negro Leagues star Charlie “Chino’’ Smith is now second with his .451 batting average in 1929 for the New York Lincoln Giants.

Gibson’s .974 slugging percentage in 1937 shatters Bonds’ .863 mark in 2001. Bonds dropped from first to fifth with Mule Suttles (.877), Gibson (.871, 1943) and Smith (.870, 1929) ahead of him.

Gibson’s OPS of 1.474 in 1937 and 1.435 in 1943 now rank as the top two single season marks ahead of Bonds’ 1.421 in 2004.

Gibson also moves into third place in the all-time single season on-base percentage category with .564 in 1943, behind Bonds’ .609 in 2004.

Interestingly enough, Gibson will not become MLB’s leader in career home runs (that remains Bonds with 762) despite his Baseball Hall of Fame plaque noting that he hit “nearly 800 home runs.” That’s because many of those home runs came in exhibitions and barnstorming tours that aren’t included in this statistical integration. But the 238 home runs Gibson hit in Negro Leagues play (he played there in 1930, from 1933-40, and from 1942-46) are a record for those leagues, and now will officially be counted as “major league.”

How were these stats collected and verified? For years and years, this was a small effort from a few people. In October 2020, HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel profiled Larry Lester (the chairman of the Society For American Baseball Research (SABR)’s Negro League Committee and the co-founder of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City) and the four decades of work he’d put into tracking down statistics and uploading them into a database at Seamheads. The work from Lester and others was vital to earning this distinction for the Negro Leagues, but there was a further extensive process of review after this announcement, as MLB official historian John Thorn detailed to Yahoo Sports’ Russell Dorsey:

The Negro Leagues Statistical Review Committee, comprised of baseball historians, Negro League experts, former players, researchers and journalists, reviewed data, box scores, statistics and additional information uncovered by Seamheads, RetroSheet and the Elias Sports Bureau.

“We looked for historians, statisticians, and stakeholders who all could be expected to have concern that MLB would get the process and the product right,” John Thorn, Official MLB Historian and chairman of the Negro Leagues Statistical Review Committee, told Yahoo Sports this week. “We were not looking for ‘like minds’ but instead potentially contentious ones.”

As Dorsey’s piece notes, none of the Negro Leagues stats will carry an asterisk in official record books. That’s due to the SBRC’s 1969 decision to use no asterisks for single-season records despite differing season lengths (which has been notable for MLB in other areas, especially with early shorter seasons and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and the shortened season it led to). So these records for Gibson are full official records. And many other Negro Leagues players will be high on various leaderboards after this, including Satchel Paige: his 1.02 ERA in 1944 is now the third-best in a MLB season, and his MLB victories jump from 28 to 124.

This comes around significant other recognition for the Negro Leagues. The Baseball Hall of Fame just unveiled a “The Souls of the Game: Voices of Black Baseball” exhibit. Around that, they held a East-West Classic paying tribute to the Negro Leagues. The Negro Leagues have also been featured in MLB The Show beginning with the ’23 edition, and were covered in a feature documentary, The League, that premiered last summer. And now, their statistics (at least from 1920-48) are officially recognized as major league.

[Update: this post initially included Nightengale’s incorrect assertion that Gibson hit .446 in 1943. He hit .466 that year.]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.