2020 has been a year of great upheaval, and not merely because of the global pandemic. In June, centuries of racial unrest exploded into sustained bouts of civil unrest as Americans united to protest the police’s murder of George Floyd, not to mention hundreds of other people of color who were robbed of justice by racist and/or overzealous cops and citizens.
All summer long, the country has been roiling from these events, and protests continue in various forms. Corporations are speaking out about systemic inequalities, politicians are leveraging these issues in attempts to win votes, and even sports leagues are making strong shows of support. The NHL has made shows of unity before their games, the NBA’s Orlando bubble opened with players wearing social justice messages on their jerseys, and now Major League Baseball, facing coronavirus-based challenges as they attempt to resume their season, is considering a major change to its history and record-keeping.
This Sunday is the centennial anniversary of the founding of the Negro National League, the first of the seven segregation-era circuits formed during the 1920s or 1930s that have collectively come to be labeled “the Negro Leagues.” According to The Ringer, the league was originally set to celebrate the date on June 27th, as part of a yearlong “A Game Changing Century” initiative conceived by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. Of course, there was no baseball in June, so things got delayed.
The Museum has delayed much of its commemoration until 2021, but some of the MLB’s plans are moving forward. All players, managers, coaches, and umpires wore a Negro Leagues 100th anniversary logo, the MLB network is airing Negro League programming, and a new Negro Leagues website will be promoted on the MLB’s digital channels. But bigger changes may be afoot.
Despite these celebrations, athletes who played for the Negro Leagues are not considered official Major Leaguers, thanks to decisions that were made some 50 years ago by a committee less enlightened than those currently running MLB. It seems baseball may be working to right that wrong, and officially recognize the leagues they recently celebrated.
“We will continue to honor the Negro Leagues beyond this year’s leaguewide celebration of the centennial season. This process is well under way. We look forward to future efforts to commemorate this vital chapter in our game’s history and to teach our next generation of fans about the significance of the Negro Leagues,” an MLB spokesman told The Ringer, which seems to be an acknowledgment that change needs to be made, if not an outright indication that it will be.
“I think the fact that they have taken the initiative to go back and essentially rewrite a piece of history as it relates to the validation of the Negro Leagues is certainly positive,” he says, adding, “Anything that continues to help validate and substantiate the significance of these leagues, we always feel that it’s a good thing,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. “It adds some credence to the work that we’re doing and the platform that we’re trying to provide for the Negro Leagues.”
Hopefully something official, beyond shirts with logos on them, is imminent. In the meantime, check out The Ringer for more on the history of the Negro Leagues and the decision that excludes its members from the MLB annals.