Christmas came early for former Negro Leagues player Ron Teasley.
Major League Baseball on Wednesday sought to correct a longstanding wrong by recognizing the Negro Leagues as a major league and counting the statistics and records of thousands of Black players as part of the game’s storied history.
“My daughter and my sons heard and they were all excited and they came over to talk and rejoice in the good news,” Teasley, 93, who played for the New York Cubans in 1948, said on the phone from his home in Detroit.
“It’s early Christmas and it will make the new year a lot happier, especially since my wife passed away in January. I just think about all the players… It’s a wonderful thing.”
MLB’s announcement comes during the centennial celebration of the founding of the Negro Leagues, which showcased stars such as Josh Gibson – considered one of the best hitters in the history of the game – and Leroy “Satchel” Paige, a pitching legend who made his big league debut in 1948 at the age of 42.
Teasley noted the official recognition merely confirmed what Negro League players had long known.
“I started practicing with some former Negro League players when I was 12 years old and I used to hear stories about the greats – Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and Buck Leonard,” he said. “And I had a feeling back then that they were just as good as the major leaguers.”
The historic recognition coincided with the Cleveland baseball club’s decision this week to remove “Indians” from its name as US corporate brands reexamine their use of racist caricatures and stereotypical names.
“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 Robert D. Manfred Jr. 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.”
MLB said it was “correcting a longtime oversight in the games history” by elevating the status of the Negro Leagues – which consisted of seven leagues and about 3,400 players from 1920 to 1948.
The decline of the Negro Leagues began when Jackie Robinson became MLB’s first Black player with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
In 1969, the Special Committee on Baseball Records did not include the Negro Leagues among six “Major Leagues” it identified since 1876.
“It is MLB’s view that the Committee’s 1969 omission of the Negro Leagues from consideration was clearly an error that demands today’s designation,” MLB said.
“The perceived deficiencies of the Negro Leagues’ structure and scheduling were born of MLB’s exclusionary practices, and denying them Major League status has been a double penalty, much like that exacted of Hall of Fame candidates prior to Satchel Paige’s induction in 1971,” John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, said in a statement.
“Granting MLB status to the Negro Leagues a century after their founding is profoundly gratifying.”
Review of old records has begun
MLB said it has begun a review, along with the Elias Sports Bureau, to “determine the full scope” of the major league “designation’s ramifications on statistics and records.” The bureau is the official statistician of Major League Baseball.
“MLB and Elias will work with historians and other experts in the field to evaluate the relevant issues and reach conclusions upon the completion of that process,” the statement said.
Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, said the recognition “serves as historical validation for those who had been shunned from the Major Leagues and had the foresight and courage to create their own league that helped change the game and our country, too.”
The acknowledgment is “a meritorious nod to the courageous owners and players who helped build this exceptional enterprise and shines a welcomed spotlight on the immense talent that called the Negro Leagues home,” he said in a statement.
The museum, on Twitter, called MLB’s move “extraordinarily important” but added that Negro League players “never looked to Major League Baseball to validate them.”
The seven leagues given major league status are the Negro National League (I) (1920–1931); the Eastern Colored League (1923–1928); the American Negro League (1929); the East-West League (1932); the Negro Southern League (1932); the Negro National League (II) (1933–1948); and the Negro American League (1937–1948).