Major League Baseball announced on Wednesday that it was elevating seven early 20th century all-Black baseball leagues — known collectively as the "Negro leagues" — to "Major League" status.
The move recognizes the players in those leagues — who were prevented from playing for National or American League clubs because of racist "color barriers" — as Major League players and formalizes any surviving records or statistics from those leagues.
Between the late 19th century through 1947, owners of National and American League clubs mutually agreed not to hire any Black ballplayers. As a result, Black people started their own baseball leagues, filled with teams and players across the country.
Jackie Robinson finally broke the MLB's color barrier in 1947, when he began playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Over the next 12 years, MLB teams gradually began integrating their teams with the top Black players, eventually signaling the end of the Negro leagues.
The MLB had previously inducted 35 players into the Baseball Hall of Fame. But with Wednesday's decision, MLB officially declared that the level of play in many of the Negro leagues was comparable to its own and bestowed the title of "Major Leaguer" to thousands of Black ballplayers who were not offered the opportunity to play with white players.
According to MLB.com, the MLB has granted "Major League" status to the following all-Black leagues: Negro National League (I) (1920-31), the Eastern Colored League (1923-28), the American Negro League (1929), the East-West League (1932), the Negro Southern League (1932), the Negro National League (II) (1933-48) and the Negro American League (1937-48).
"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," MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "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 and its official statisticians at Elias Sports Bureau have now begun integrating the various leagues' records into MLB records. The integration could have some significant outcomes on current records lists — for instance, Black players like Josh Gibson, Jud Wilson, Oscar Charleston and Turkey Stearnes may soon be added to the top 10 all-time batting averages list, which would push players like Ted Williams and Babe Ruth out of the top 10.
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick applauded the MLB's decision on Wednesday.
"For historical merit, it is extraordinarily important," Kendrick said, according to MLB.com. "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. 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."