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Negro League players gain modern-day relevance as their history is revealed

The Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City was founded in 1990 by a group of former players.Peter Abraham/Staff

Baseball-Reference.com, a trusted repository of statistics, announced Tuesday it had added more than 3,400 Negro League players to its database.

This was a tangible result of the December announcement by Major League Baseball that players from the seven Negro Leagues that operated between 1920-48 would be recognized as major leaguers.

As a result, Tetelo Vargas of the 1943 New York Cubans is now credited with the single-season batting average record of .471.

Oscar Charleston is listed fourth in career OPS ahead of Barry Bonds and Jimmie Foxx, and Josh Gibson is recognized as having won three batting titles after a painstaking examination of old box scores, newspaper accounts, and other records.


Elias Sports is MLB’s official statistician. But Baseball-Reference is widely used by fans, media, and teams, and the step it took was more than symbolic. It helped to right a wrong stemming to 1969, when an all-white “special committee” determined the Negro Leagues were not of major league quality.

Josh Gibson is recognized as having won three batting titles after a painstaking examination of old box scores, newspaper accounts, and other records.Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

A recent visit to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City was another reminder that, more than ever, Negro League players are relevant.

“It’s significant along a lot of fronts,” said Bob Kendrick, the museum’s president. “For me primarily because of the recognition, the acknowledgment, and I think to some degree you can say the atonement for the Negro Leagues being blatantly dismissed by the commission that recognized these other leagues and failed to do so with the Negro Leagues.”

Kendrick believes the infusion of data will allow people to further appreciate the skills of players like Charleston, Gibson, and the rest. After all, Jackie Robinson wasn’t the first Black player good enough for the majors. He was the first Black player allowed to play. Racism kept so many others out.

The museum has benefited from a surge of interest in recent months. Kendrick believes it’s tied to the push to end systemic racism across the country.


“People have started to make the connection that we’re more than just this wonderful institution that preserves, celebrates, and enlightens, I hope, people about this particular piece of history,” Kendrick said.

Pumpsie Green was the first Black player to play for the Red Sox, the last team to integrate.Peter Abraham/Staff

“We’re also a social justice institution. We are a civil rights institution. It’s just seen through the lens of baseball and a triumph over adversity. That story needs to be shared. It needs to be touted and hopefully in the process we amplify why diversity, inclusion, and equity are so important.”

If baseball could break down a barrier in 1947, you’d like to believe the barriers that still exist can fall.

“I hope so,” Kendrick said. “The numbers will never tell the full story of the Negro Leagues. They just can’t. But they are contextual in nature.”

CC Sabathia, Adam Jones, Torii Hunter, Mookie Betts, and other players are avid supporters of the museum and understand the doors that were opened for them.

Kendrick called them “footsoldiers” who connect the story to a younger generation.

Red Sox first base coach Tom Goodwin, who joined Alex Cora and some of the other coaches at the museum on Friday, is among them. Since his own playing days, Goodwin has had an interest in the Negro Leagues.

“When I walk players through the museum, no matter how many times they come back, it never gets old,” Kendrick said. “The bond that they share from players in the Negro Leagues, it’s simply love of the game.


“You play this game because you love it. You’ll never see a greater example of love of the game than you do when you walk through that museum. They had to love it to endure the things they had to endure just to play this game.

“That grabs me. Because no matter what color you are, you have to appreciate that passion.”

One of the best displays at the museum is a 2004 interview with the late Lester Rodney, a pioneering sportswriter who agitated for the desegregation of baseball and was a harsh critic of commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis for standing in the way.

Rodney was one of the first white writers to cover the Negro Leagues and was a champion of the players whose accomplishments are back in the spotlight.

His comments from 17 years ago remain meaningful.

“If you love something enough, you want it to be perfect. You don’t want it to be racist,” Rodney said. “When you change people in baseball, you change America.”

What now?

‘New world’ opens on Monday

Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers was "really shocked" by MLB's decision to ban sunscreen as a grip-enhancer.Jim Davis

The first game on Monday is Braves-Mets at 5:10 p.m. The Red Sox have a day off in St. Petersburg, Fla., and will be watching to see what happens as umpires will begin to enforce the new rule prohibiting pitchers from putting any substance beyond rosin on the ball.

“It’ll be interesting. To be honest, I don’t know what to expect,” Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers said. “That’s one of the things we’ve been talking about.


“There could be some guys who don’t have their usual command of the baseball.”

Hyers believes MLB had to do something, given the widening gap between hitters and pitchers.

“There are so many variables that hitters are always playing from behind,” he said. “Teams acquire pitchers who have unique qualities or unique pitches that miss barrels. They’ve jumped ahead.”

Putting substances on the ball only increases that gap.

“It’s a challenge,” Hyers said. “But is it fun to see strikeouts going up and batting average going down? No. But we’re always going to have something to play catch-up on.”

Hyers said he was “really shocked” MLB prohibited pitchers from using sunscreen. Even hitters, he said, accept the idea that pitchers need something to make the ball easier to command.

The concern is more batters will be hit by pitches.

“This is a new world,” Hyers said.

A few observations about the Red Sox:

Hunter Renfroe has a terrific arm and has been a very good right fielder, but he also has made three throwing errors that led to four runs.

“During the game, it’s 100 percent no matter what,” Renfroe told Globe colleague Julian McWilliams this month. “Whatever the outcome is, I try to go out there and give it everything I got, no matter what.”

That sounds great. But sometimes the better play is to assess the situation and hit the cutoff man instead of throwing a fastball to the plate.

Take Tuesday’s game at Atlanta. With the Sox up by three runs and runners on first and second in the sixth inning, Guillermo Heredia singled slowly to right field.


Abraham Almonte was going to score easily, but Renfroe came up throwing. The throw was wide right and only a fortunate bounce off the backstop kept a second run from scoring. But that was only a delay.

Heredia moved up to second on the error, took third on a passed ball, and scored the tying run on a sacrifice fly.

Alex Cora said he trusts the outfielders to make good decisions.

“I believe we’re very disciplined in that aspect, us as a group,” he said. “I don’t have any complaints.”

Maybe not yet. But the Sox had 10 errors over their seven games against the Blue Jays and Braves starting June 10, and three were in the outfield. There should have been a fourth on a ball J.D. Martinez misplayed.

▪ Before his single against the Braves Tuesday, Garrett Whitlock’s last hit was for Providence Christian Academy in Lilburn, Ga., in 2015 when he was a high school senior.

“I played first base when I didn’t pitch. Switch hitter, too,” Whitlock said. “But I was just an OK hitter.”

Whitlock came up in a bunting situation in the sixth inning. The Sox didn’t know if he could bunt and took the sign off after a shaky attempt at the first pitch.

“They taught me the signs before I went up,” Whitlock said. “Once [third base coach Carlos Febles] took the bunt off, I figured I’d see what I could do.”

Whitlock had 40 friends and family at the game.

Rafael Devers joined Albert Pujols, César Cedeño, Adrián Beltré, and Manny Ramirez as the only Dominican players with at least 90 home runs and 300 RBIs before the age of 25.

▪ As Fenway Sports Group makes plans to develop the area around Fenway Park, there’s a lot to be learned in Atlanta.

The area around Truist Park, known as The Battery, has a dozen or so food options, a few bars, a performance venue, and some retail spaces. It’s a popular spot even when the Braves aren’t playing. Many fans arrive early and/or stay late.

Atlanta had the advantage of starting with a blank slate, something Boston does not have. But hopefully as the Fenway neighborhood changes, making it more welcoming to fans is a priority.


Baseball embraces gambling as Rose waits

Baseball and betting grow closer and closer, but Pete Rose remains an unsympathetic figure.John Minchillo/Associated Press

Pete Rose never made it onto the writers’ ballot for the Hall of Fame and never will. His only chance for Cooperstown would be to be taken off the permanently ineligible list by the commissioner, then considered by one of the Hall’s “eras committees.”

Rose bet on games he managed and lied about it for years until he thought he could make more money by telling the truth. He broke a sacred rule everybody in the game knew was punishable by expulsion. He’s not remotely a sympathetic figure.

But then an email showed up a few days ago announcing David Ortiz has joined something called the Fox Bet Team and will make contributions to the “Fox Bet real-money sportsbook app.”

Ortiz is retired and can’t influence games, but he does work for the Red Sox, as well. He’s hardly alone in having a foot in both worlds.

The Cubs have committed to putting a sportsbook in Wrigley Field or somewhere close by. Yankees president Randy Levine has voiced support for sports betting in New York.

The Red Sox have an advertisement for DraftKings on one of the billboards above the Green Monster. Most every team has a direct or indirect tie to the gambling industry.

Baseball’s slow pace lends itself to in-game wagering and revenue windfalls for the sport.

We’re probably no more than a few years away from ballparks having locations where you can bet on whether your favorite player homers his next time up.

In time, gambling websites are going to hire beat writers and provide one-stop shopping for fans.

As the Globe’s Michael Silverman reported, 30 states and Washington, D.C., either have sports betting or have approved it.

Massachusetts is not among them, but the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies discussed the topic Thursday.

Rose, now 80, is unlikely to make the Hall. What’s going on in 2021 doesn’t change what he did in the 1980s.

A better question is to what degree baseball can avoid an active player, coach, or manager providing inside info to gamblers, if not betting on games themselves or through an intermediary.

We’re so far down that road that a scandal seems inevitable.

Extra bases

The Negro League Museum is well worth your time if you get the opportunity. One of the largest displays, 200-plus baseballs signed by Black stars, was donated by Geddy Lee, the lead singer of the Canadian rock band Rush. Lee visited the museum and was so impressed that he purchased the collection and donated it in 2008. Lee is a passionate baseball fan and often attends Blue Jays games ... Two members of the forgettable 2020 Red Sox, José Peraza and Kevin Pillar, have combined to give the Mets 0.5 WAR at a low cost … All teams have been cleared for full capacity at their ballparks except for Toronto, which will play at its Triple A park in Buffalo through at least the end of July. The Jays have not played at Rogers Centre in 630 days … The best statistic in the game this season remains that Mets ace Jacob deGrom has allowed fewer earned runs (4) than he has driven in (6). His earned run average is down to 0.54 and he’s averaging 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings … Albert Pujols went into the weekend hitting .269 with an .832 OPS in 24 games for the Dodgers. He’s been crushing lefties (.378 with a 1.167 OPS) and looks like a player who won’t necessarily retire after the season. Pujols needs 19 extra-base hits to pass Stan Musial for third all time … Steven Wright is 3-2 with a 4.05 ERA in seven games (five starts) for Triple A Indianapolis after signing a minor league deal with the Pirates. Opponents have hit .224 against the 36-year-old knuckleballer, who hasn’t appeared in a major league game in 23 months, but is finally healthy after having Tommy John surgery and surgery to his left knee … Sudbury’s Ryan Cusick could be among the top 50 picks in the draft. The 6-foot-6-inch, 230-pound righthander from Wake Forest worked out with teammate Jared Shuster of New Bedford last spring when the pandemic ended the season. Shuster was the 25th overall pick last June by the Braves and is pitching well in High A. Another New England player moving up on draft boards is lefthander Frank Mozzicato of East Catholic High in Manchester, Conn. UConn hopes he’ll follow through with his commitment to the school … Matt Harvey was 4-3 with a 3.60 ERA through seven starts in his comeback with the Orioles. He’s 0-6 with a 14.09 ERA since. Harvey is throwing strikes, but opponents have a .452 batting average on balls in play since May 12. Harvey was a good trade candidate for a bit, but no more … After a year away, the Cape Cod Baseball League starts its season Sunday with five games and is scheduled for its usual 40-game season. Go to capecodbaseball.org for schedules … Happy birthday to Doug Mientkiewicz, who turned 47 Saturday. The first baseman was a member of the 2004 Red Sox and will be remembered for holding on to that little flip from Keith Foulke to retire Edgar Renteria for the final out of the World Series. Mientkiewicz tried to keep the ball and was sued by the Sox before the sides agreed to donate it to the Hall of Fame. Mientkiewicz, who played on the same high school team as Alex Rodriguez, had a 12-year career in the majors, mostly with the Twins before stints with the Sox, Mets, Royals, Yankees, Pirates, and Dodgers. He also helped the United States to its most recent Olympic gold medal in baseball in 2000. Mientkiewicz worked as a minor league coach and manager from 2012-19 and now runs a charter fishing coach service in Florida, Olympic Gold Fishing.

Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him @PeteAbe.