Thursday, June 20, 2024

THE CHEAP SEATS with STEVE CAMERON: No debate, the stats were well-earned

| May 30, 2024 1:20 AM

Oh, my goodness!

Once a year or so, something happens in our sports neighborhood that brings readers springing to life.

I don’t mean a yawning event like Travis Kelce smooching Taylor Swift on the field after the Super Bowl.

Nah, that’s merely the kind of thing that makes the “no-fun police” go cluck-cluck-cluck, and insist we get back to playing actual football.

Or arguing about how money should be disbursed to the Alabama and Georgia football programs.

But nobody really dozes off at night worrying about Travis and Taylor.


Wednesday’s announcement by Major League Baseball that statistics from several generations of Negro League games would be incorporated in the sport’s official stats set a lot of people’s hair on fire.

In case you haven’t seen the official press release or let this news sink in, yes, it means that numbers from Negro League games played around the time Jackie Robinson was BORN are now locked in as part of the game’s locked-in history.

Ty Cobb is no longer baseball’s leader in career batting average at .366.

No, the player now etched in stone with that record is Josh Gibson (.372).

TO SAY that this statistics upheaval has caused a ruckus would be, um, an understatement.

There are people involved as guardians of MLB’s sacred numbers who are scrapping about what stats should count, which shouldn’t, why and so on.

Legitimate arguments about length of seasons and all sorts of things that have changed baseball from, say, 1910 to the present are worth discussing.

However, MLB’s official change has also brought some ugliness to the surface.

We’re still in the first week of “new” statistics, and I’ve already gotten several emails that were outright racist.

Silly me.

I thought we were past that sort of kind of nonsense.

Now, I DO understand that tampering with baseball’s sacred numbers requires a powerful reason — and if there were an impossible roadblock to doing it correctly, that’s worth a debate.

But arguing over the color of a hitter’s skin?


It never should have happened in the first place.

The final change came in 1947, though, and thankfully we’re not going back.

If there are a few dozen of you knuckle-dragging bozos who wish Jackie Robinson had never turned up, please take your mindless stupidity elsewhere.

As for discussions about shorter seasons in the Negro Leagues and issues like that making a blend of statistics difficult, that’s fine.

We need to keep it there, however.

“People will be, I don’t know if upset is the word, but they may be uncomfortable with some Negro League stars now on the leaderboards for careers and seasons,” said Larry Lester, an author and longtime Negro Leagues researcher who served on the committee that pored through endless numbers.

“Diehards may not accept the stats, but that’s OK.

“I welcome the conversations at the bar or the barbershop or the pool hall. That’s why we do what we do.”


BUT, HOW about the differences between 60-game seasons in the Negro Leagues as opposed to 162 today?

Stephen Nesbitt of The Athletic took up that question and came to a very simple answer.

“MLB history is dotted with different seasons defined by statistical anomalies,” Nesbitt wrote.

“In 1877, MLB played 60 games. In 1894, the league batting average was .309, and Hugh Duffy hit a record (until now) .440.

“In 1945, teams contended with a war-depleted player pool and government-mandated travel restrictions.

“In 1968, the year of the pitcher, hitting cratered.

“In 1994, a strike ended the season in August.

“In 2019, the year of the rabbit ball, homers hit an all-time high.

“In 2020, a pandemic cut the season to 60 games.”

Any more questions?

The bottom line to finally getting Negro League stats included in MLB from the appropriate years (1920 through 1948) is simply a matter of fairness.

“When you hear Josh Gibson’s name now, it’s not just that he was the greatest player in the Negro Leagues,’’ Gibson’s great-grandson, Sean, told USA Today, “but one of the greatest of all-time.

“These aren’t just Negro League stats. They’re major-league baseball stats.’’

Baseball fans can always argue about stats.

That’s what we do.

There’s no debate, though, about the fact that many, many of these Negro League stars were fantastic players, and deserve any statistical accolades that come their way.

No matter how long they’ve been delayed.


Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns appear in The Press four times each week, normally Tuesday through Friday unless, you know, stuff happens.

Steve suggests you take his opinions in the spirit of a Jimmy Buffett song: “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On.”