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Move Over Ty Cobb, There's A New All-Time Batting Champion in Town

Ty Cobb has held the career batting average record of .367 for 96 years when he retired in 1928. It was a record that seemed to last forever, much like Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game or Wayne Gretzky's career point total. However, we have seen impossible records broken, like LeBron James passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's career points total just a few seasons ago. Times change, and records are meant to be broken. To right the wrongs of the segregated era of baseball, MLB has officially integrated Negro League stats from 1920 to 1948 across the seven different Negro Leagues that existed during that time.

“The Negro Leagues were a product of segregated America, created to give opportunity where opportunity did not exist,” said Negro Leagues expert and historian Larry Lester. “As Bart Giamatti, former Commissioner of Baseball, once said, ‘We must never lose sight of our history, insofar as it is ugly, never to repeat it, and insofar as it is glorious, to cherish it.’”

With this new stat integration, catcher Josh Gibson has dethroned Ty Cobb for the career batting average title (.372 to .366) and Babe Ruth in career slugging (.718 to .690) and career OPS (1.177 to 1.164). Gibson played in 1930 and then from 1933 to 1946 while racking up these numbers in 653 games and 2255 at-bats. Gibson also became the single-season leader in batting average at .466 in 1943.

For those who are wondering how the stats were integrated and who counted, here is what is said from the MLB website:

"For single-season Negro Leagues leaderboards, the minimum standard is 3.1 plate appearances or one inning pitched per scheduled game, consistent with the standard we are familiar with in the AL and NL.
However, because of the inconsistencies of Negro Leagues team schedules (or the available data), the minimum qualifier for each league and season is based upon the average number of games played by each team, multiplied by 3.1 plate appearances for hitters and one inning for pitchers. Those values are subject to change as more data is discovered.
As for career leaderboards, the current standard for career MLB leaders is 5,000 at-bats and 2,000 innings pitched, which roughly equates to 10 full qualifying seasons (5,020 at-bats and 1,620 innings). Therefore, for Negro Leagues players, this standard has been set at 1,800 at-bats and 600 innings -- roughly the equivalent of 10 seasons’ worth of 60-game seasons."

Outside of the scheduling inconsistencies, MLB picked 60 games as the minimum for a season because of the 2020 COVID-shortened season and the fact that the NL played 60 games in 1877 and 1878.

It is high time that MLB finally integrated these stats as part of the league's official record. It wasn't Jackie Robinson's, Satchel Paige's, or Gibson's fault that they didn't get to play any or all of their MLB careers. America and baseball have radically changed since the era, and the league's quality was at a major league level. 52 players from the Negro League made their way to major league baseball, including Robinson, Paige, Willie Mays, Larry Doby, Ernie Banks, Minnie Minoso, and Monte Irvin. How many more of Negro League players could have made it to the league if they had been allowed?

To those who say you can't integrate these stats because Satchel Paige never pitched against Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, or Ted Williams, or Gibson faced the star pitchers of that era, I say this: how can you include the stats of Babe Ruth since he never faced Satchel Paige. We will never know how either side's stats would have been impacted if the league had been integrated much earlier than the late 1940s. The best way to tell the sport's history is to include all aspects of that history, whether we like it or not. So, I celebrate Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, and the rest of the Negro League players who are now finally fully integrated into the game they loved playing.

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