SABR Negro Leagues Task Force issues recommendations on major-league status

SABR logoFEBRUARY 11, 2021 — SABR’s Negro Leagues Task Force has made a series of recommendations on which Black leagues from baseball’s segregated era should be recognized as major leagues, and to advise how SABR should change its internal workings to reflect this determination.

The task force, chaired by SABR Board President Mark Armour, acknowledged that the following Black baseball leagues were full major leagues and should be treated as such by all groups or publications under SABR’s purview:

  • Negro National League I, 1920–1931
  • Negro National League II, 1933–1948
  • Negro American League, 1937–1948
  • Eastern Colored League, 1923–1928
  • American Negro League, 1929
  • East-West League, 1932
  • Negro Southern League, 1932

The group’s criteria in determining major-league status was: a league of high quality, containing a large number of the best available baseball players, with a defined set of teams and a defined roster of players. Teams should have played a set schedule, with the league maintaining standings and records, some of which may no longer be available.

“SABR and its members are committed to the preservation and accurate telling of all of baseball’s history,” SABR CEO Scott Bush said. “While the skill of Negro Leaguers has never been in question, this change helps ensure these players are aligned with their rightful peers and provides guidance on how to better tell the story of segregated baseball.”

The task force will continue studying other teams and leagues from baseball’s segregated era, including from before 1920 and after 1948, along with other top-level independent Black teams of the 1930s, which frequently played against White major-league players and teams. Some Black baseball teams were forced to operate independently in order to survive, as the color barrier enacted by White officials both necessitated the Negro Leagues’ existence and later led to their demise.

SABR is also working with to license the biographical data from its award-winning Negro Leagues Database. These data will be integrated into SABR’s own biographical database, which forms the backbone of the SABR BioProject. The Biographical Research Committee will continue its efforts to correct and update biographical information for non-Negro Leagues players, as well.

The SABR Style Guide is undergoing revisions to explain how the terms “Major League” and “major league” should be used. These changes will be communicated clearly to writers, editors, and fact-checkers for the Baseball Research Journal and all other SABR publications. Future SABR research should take care that any claims it makes about the “major leagues” — best second baseman of the 1920s, number of New Yorkers who have won batting titles — includes all of the major leagues unless care is taken with how the claim is specified. The task force will be soliciting feedback from SABR’s research committee chairs on how this designation will affect their work.

In addition to Armour, the SABR task force includes Gary Ashwill, Cliff Blau, Scott Bush, Bill Carle, Sean Forman, Gary Gillette, Leslie Heaphy, Ted Knorr, Sean Lahman, Larry Lester, Trent McCotter, Todd Peterson, Jacob Pomrenke, Anthony Salazar, Cecilia Tan, and Tom Thress.

Originally published: February 11, 2021. Last Updated: February 10, 2021.