Sauer: Preserving Negro League history has never been easier, or harder

From Patrick Sauer at Smithsonian Magazine on October 23, 2018, with SABR members Gary Ashwill, Ray Doswell, Jim Gates, and Leslie Heaphy:

When the World Series opens up at Fenway Park tonight, all eyes will be on Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts. Only 26, the three time All-Star is the odds-on favorite to win the 2018 American League MVP. Betts has advanced statistics to thank—primarily WAR (Wins Above Replacement Players), in which he notched a 10.1. Going back 117 seasons, there have only been 50 10+ WAR seasons, putting Betts in heady Boston company. In its “Similar Batters Through 25” category, lists Betts alongside fellow Red Sox outfielders Jim Rice and Carl Yastrzemski. Both men are in the Hall-of-Fame.

Comparing modern players with the greats of yore is one of the joys of baseball in the digital age, a smartphone in hand with the game on television. Maintaining ties to baseball’s past is particularly important in the case of Betts—and Boston teammates Jackie Bradley Jr. and David Price—because the African-American population in Major League Baseball this season was roughly 8 percent, in line with that of the late 1950s, when the Negro Leagues still flourished.

Founded in a Kansas City, Missouri, YMCA in 1920, the National Negro League was where African-American ballplayers thrived. Kept out of the segregated Major Leagues, some of the best athletes of their generation, regardless of race, competed on teams like the Kansas City Monarchs, the Newark Eagles and the Homestead Greys.

The connective tissue between today’s Boston Red Sox and the city’s Negro League teams, like the Colored Tigers and the Royal Giants, is hard to comprehend because so much of that history vanished like a ball crushed over the Green Monster. Hardball historians, however, are out there keeping the Negro Leagues alive.

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Originally published: October 24, 2018. Last Updated: October 24, 2018.