Negro League Stats, As They've Never Been Seen
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Before Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947, some of the sport's earliest and best players were restricted to separate baseball organizations known as the Negro Leagues. It not only divided players, it divided their records as well. Over the last decade, the Baseball Hall of Fame has combed through newspapers, scorecards and other archives to find those stats. They've recently released the newly compiled data on the website called BaseballReference.com, thrilling scholars and fans. It's fair to say our next guest is both - scholar and fan. Rob Neyer is the national baseball editor at Baseball Nation and he's at our member station OPB in Portland. Welcome to the program, Mr. Neyer.
ROB NEYER: I'm thrilled to be here.
MARTIN: So, all this new data has been released. What does it tell us? What are we learning from these statistics?
NEYER: We can answer questions about - you mentioned Josh Gibson. Well, we know Josh Gibson was regarded as the greatest power hitter in Negro Leagues history, at least his era, but how dominant was he? We can now sort of figure the answer to that question. But to me, a more fundamental question is how good were the Negro Leagues? What was the quality of play like relative to the white Major Leagues? And nobody's really tried to answer that question with any precision to this point, but now we can at least begin to answer it using the numbers that we have.
MARTIN: So, all these stats are now online. They're on this website BaseballReference.com. And they talk about some of the challenges that the researchers were up against. For instance, different newspapers back then listed different scores and people used nicknames instead of real names.
NEYER: Yes. There's a lot of gray areas here. Basically, it was only the black newspapers that even covered the Negro Leagues games, and some survived on microfilm, some have been lost, some of them published once a week so they didn't cover every game, some of them didn't run box scores or they did run box scores but they were incomplete. A great example: Josh Gibson, according to the data that we got, in two of his seasons, two of his full seasons in the Negro Leagues, he drew zero walks. Well, we know that's not true. We know he drew a number of walks. He was a great hitter and feared. We just don't know how many walks he drew.
MARTIN: Who were you most curious about? Was there a certain player that you wanted to find out this person's history?
NEYER: There was. There was a pitcher named Ray Brown who was elected into the Hall of Fame in 2006 along with six other Negro Leagues players. Ray Brown was not a well-known name. He wasn't Satchel Paige or any other great stars that a lot of people have heard of at least. But he was put in the Hall of Fame basically because of the numbers that were uncovered. So, it's been fun to look at him and find out that he went 92 and 41 in the Negro Leagues. Well, 92 wins, that's not a lot by the standards of a Hall of Famer, but of course they played shorter schedules back then. We know that he was a very dominant pitcher, and we could do with hundreds of other guys too. We're just, we're at the very beginning of that process.
MARTIN: How do you see fans using this data? What does this mean to them?
NEYER: Well, it's really going to be the real aficionado. There's a niche audience for these numbers. But there are people - and many of them my friends - who are fascinated by the Negro Leagues, as I am. A lot of us love to categorize players and rank them. That's something we do with sports, we like to rank things. Well, it's hard to rank a player if you don't know what he did, and we have a better idea now than we ever have.
MARTIN: Rob Neyer is the national baseball editor for Baseball Nation, and he joined us from member station OPB in Portland, Oregon. Rob, thanks so much.
NEYER: Great to be here. Thank you.
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MARTIN: And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.