I first met baseball researcher Scott Simkus a decade in the past, after he had compiled the statistics for Strat-O-Matic Baseball’s 103-card Negro League legends set. I used to be a Strat-O-Matic fanatic in my youth, so I drove out to Simkus’s home in Carol Stream, the place we performed a recreation between the 1927 Yankees and the 1927 Dodgers, with Negro Leaguers Martin Dihigo, Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell, and Satchel Paige added to the all-white groups’ rosters. (The Yankees received, 6-5, when Babe Ruth singled off Dihigo within the backside of the ninth.)
Now, Simkus’s contribution to baseball historical past has gone past a tabletop recreation: he’s a part of the Seamheads Negro League Database Group, which satisfied Main League Baseball that the Negro Leagues belong in the identical class because the American League and the Nationwide League, and needs to be included in baseball’s official statistical file. Final month, MLB talked about Simkus by identify in a press release announcing that it’s “correcting a longtime oversight within the recreation’s historical past by formally elevating the Negro Leagues to ‘Main League’ standing.”
Simkus, 50, has been researching Negro League historical past for 20 years. His ardour for Strat-O-Matic led him to the baseball cabinets of the general public library, the place he found Only the Ball Was White, the pioneering historical past of Negro League baseball. Additionally, his grandfather, a sandlot participant from the West Aspect, as soon as performed an exhibition recreation towards the Cuban Stars, an all-Cuban crew that competed within the Negro Nationwide League. Fascinated, Simkus started studying previous copies of the Chicago Defender, the place he discovered field scores for the Chicago American Giants, the town’s Negro League franchise.
“Being in Chicago, the straightforward crew to search out could be the Chicago American Giants, so it began as a Chicago-centric mission,” Simkus mentioned.
Simkus’s analysis turned a nationwide mission as soon as he linked on-line with the opposite Negro League investigators at Seamheads. The Negro Leagues by no means had an Elias Sports activities Bureau, so the “nerds at Seamheads” needed to search newspapers for field scores, typically in small cities the place groups scheduled video games to achieve rural followers. In contrast to the white leagues, whose video games had been confined to 16 stadiums, the Negro Leagues competed in 71 completely different cities. The American Giants performed in Comiskey Park when the White Sox had been out of city, however then they’d decamp to Danville or Michigan Metropolis.
“To make a dwelling, you needed to take it on the street,” Simkus mentioned.
Six years in the past, Simkus was invited to talk about the early days of Black baseball on the Nationwide Baseball Corridor of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. There, he met John Thorn, MLB’s official historian. When Simkus requested whether or not the Negro Leagues certified for main league standing, Thorn mentioned no. It wasn’t a query of expertise — there are 32 Negro League players in the Hall of Fame — however of group and file preserving.
The Seamheads took that as a problem. They continued “chipping away on the database,” Simkus mentioned. This yr, they lastly posted statistics from the 1946 and 1947 seasons, which meant “we lastly had a whole file of all 3,400-plus Negro League gamers.”
2020 additionally marked the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues. And it was a yr of demonstrations demanding racial justice. That “convergence” of things impressed MLB to lastly acknowledge the Negro Leagues, Simkus believes.
Due to the problem of finding field scores, the Negro League Database won’t ever be 100 p.c full. However quickly, Negro League gamers will probably be given entries on baseball-reference.com, the web Baseball Almanac. They’re not going to rewrite the file books, although. Negro League seasons had been solely half so long as main league seasons, so the gamers couldn’t pile up statistics to match their white counterparts. Josh Gibson’s Corridor of Fame plaque claims he hit “virtually 800 dwelling runs in league and impartial play.” The Seamheads discovered solely 238 in Negro League play. Nevertheless, Gibson is anticipated to be awarded the record for highest single-season batting common — .441 in 1943. His lifetime common of .361 is second solely to Ty Cobb’s.
One query statisticians can by no means totally reply is why Black athletes had been excluded from Main League Baseball earlier than World Conflict II, particularly since they starred in boxing (Joe Louis), observe and subject (Jesse Owens), and professional soccer (Fritz Pollard). Black gamers competed within the Nationwide League and the American Affiliation within the 19th Century, however had been banned from the majors after protests from white opponents — a ban Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis did nothing to overturn.
Statisticians can, nonetheless, do the grunt work of uncovering hidden paperwork that right historic wrongs. Martin Dihigo couldn’t play towards Babe Ruth in Yankee Stadium, however due to Simkus and the opposite Seamheads, the 2 will now coexist in baseball’s file e-book.