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Saturday Sports: MLB incorporates Negro League stats into its record books


Now it's time for sports.


SIMON: Major League Baseball has a new all-time batting champion, but he retired in 1946. And Mavs versus Celtics, the NBA Finals are set. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Hello, Scott, how are you?

SIMON: Fine, thank you. I think this is a real moment. Major League Baseball has announced that the stats of more than 2,300 former Negro League players are going to be incorporated into its record books, and that means the great Josh Gibson - well, let's put it this way. Babe Ruth was the white Josh Gibson.

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: Josh was a standout catcher for teams - Memphis, Pittsburgh, the Homestead Grays - won the Triple Crown in consecutive years. He played in Puerto Rico. He was the first manager, in fact, of the Santurce Cangrejeros. And Josh Gibson died at just the age of 35. He's the new career batting champion - a career average of .372. I don't know whether to ask why are they doing this now or why did it take them so long to do this?

BRYANT: Yeah, Scott. I think it's a - I think it's both. Well, the reason why they're doing it is it's a continuation of the move they made in 2020 after George Floyd was killed to elevate the Negro Leagues into major league level. In the past, the Negro Leagues were a separate league. They weren't designated as the major leagues by the - you know, by the powers that be and also in the imagination.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: And so I think to try to make these former isolated players whole, they - Major League Baseball decided with a pen stroke that they were going to elevate the Negro Leagues to major league status. The second layer to this is now incorporating the stats - taking their statistics and adding them into the major league record, merging them together.

It's a very controversial thing. I don't know how I feel about it. Well, actually, I do know how I feel about it. I'm conflicted, and I don't really like it. I'm happy for the families of Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige and Turkey Stearnes and all of these great forgotten Negro League players who had to endure segregation, that they - that their numbers will now be side by side with Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.

But on the other hand, I'm conflicted, and I don't like it because I feel like it gives the suggestion that separate was equal, and it wasn't, and that those Negro League players were somehow, over time, over the decades, will now be considered to be the same, and they weren't. They were denigrated. They were not respected by the major leagues. The major leagues wanted nothing to do with these Black players. They didn't want much to do with them after they began to integrate.

So there's a whitewashing going on here. It suggests that separate was equal, and it wasn't. And it's ahistorical. And I think from that level, I don't like it at all.

SIMON: I find myself conflicted too. I do wonder why it took so long. Let me, before we go this week, we have our NBA's final matchup, the Celtics - Boston Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks. The Celtics were the best regular season team by far. They've looked pretty strong in the playoffs. Do you expect a close series?

BRYANT: I do expect a close series and a personal series. You've got the Celtics, who are the best team in the league. You've got the Mavericks, after making a midseason trade, who are the best team in the second half of the season. You've got the Celtics who have stumbled in the postseason for the last several years. They made the finals in 2022, lost to the Warriors.

You've got Kyrie Irving who used to play for the Celtics, who's now with the Mavericks. You've got Kristaps Porzingis, who used to play with the Mavericks and now he's with the Celtics. So everyone's got a personal stake in this. It's going to be a fantastic series. We'll see if the Celtics can close the job or if the Mavericks are going to win their second championship.

SIMON: I've got to come up with my cheer. I haven't figured it out yet, OK? Give me a week, all right?

BRYANT: Celtic pride - how about that?

SIMON: Eh, it's too easy.

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media, thanks very much for being with us.

BRYANT: Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAYLE AND GLIMLIP'S "COACH 101") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.