MLB’s major-league identity crisis, the Negro Leagues and the world

When you are trying to be something you’re not, trouble follows. Major League Baseball is now walking into trouble with its eyes wide open in regard to America’s Negro Leagues. It is just and proper that in 2020, MLB finally recognized the Negro Leagues as major leagues.

They were always major leagues, and that is not a problem. On Wednesday, MLB created a problem by including Negro League records as MLB records, and that is an issue because it falsely affirms MLB’s ownership of the idea of “major leagues.” The concept of major leagues is that they are at the top of a pro baseball pyramid, but as long as MLB considers itself the gatekeeper of what is and is not a major league, all of its pronouncements are hollow and silly.

The Negro Leagues existed only because of MLB’s wholehearted embrace of Jim Crow segregation and for better and worse were never part of MLB.

The problem starts when MLB starts calling leagues other than the NL and AL, capital “M” Major Leagues, because those leagues played in different contexts. What the world of baseball needs is a “major league record book” that would incorporate all the world’s major leagues, while maintaining separate record books for each league.

In the small “m” major league record book, the career home run leader would not be MLB leader Barry Bonds, but Nippon Professional Baseball’s Sadaharu Oh, who would not be entered into MLB’s record book for the obvious reason that he never played there. Likewise the career major league hit leader is – not “should be”—Ichiro Suzuki, while MLB’s career record holder remains Pete Rose.

When Yu Darvish won his 200th career major league game recently, writers around the world struggled for ways to frame the accomplishment. The best they did was call it his “200th win between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball.” This was accurate because even though NPB’s minor leagues are part of NPB, Darvish never pitched in Japan’s minors.

But when the Negro Leagues were added, AFP-JIJI published the following:

“At a stroke, Gibson will become baseball’s all-time leader in batting average, his career average of.372 eclipsing Ty Cobb’s record of .366 — a hitherto untouchable record that has stood since Cobb’s retirement in 1928.”

This sentence cuts to the heart of the problem: People nurtured on MLB’s brand of American exceptionalism equate MLB product as “baseball,” as if the games they played with friends were not baseball, but something other, that only when a game is anointed by MLB can it actually be baseball.

This may be the biggest load of horseshit in the history of writing about sports.

If we modify it to make it “major league baseball’s all-time leader it might be true. Nobody whose career took place exclusively in Japan hit anything higher. I don’t know about South Korea or Taiwan, but “baseball?” Have fun looking that up.

Fans of the world’s major leagues need to stand up and call their leagues what they are. Just because pro baseball started in America, doesn’t mean Americans own it any more than the English own football or cricket.

South Korea’s KBO is a major league. America’s Negro Leagues were major leagues. MLB’s two leagues are major leagues. Taiwan’s CPBL is a major league, and NPB’s Central and Pacific leagues are major leagues. Mexico’s LMB is a major league.

By integrating Negro League records as MLB records, MLB is artificially elevating one establishment it formerly spurned by spurning other baseball organizations it has anointed as “other.”

What they have in common is that each is or was the best baseball competition within its context, the top of a pro baseball pyramid. Calling MLB “THE major leagues” is a disservice to baseball and the people who love it and aspire to excel at it around the world.

Masaichi Kaneda, who won 400 games in Japanese pro baseball’s top level, won more major league games than anybody but Cy Young (511) and Walter Johnson (417),

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