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Josh Gibson now career, season batting leader as MLB incorporates Negro Leagues stats

Josh Gibson

NEW YORK — Move over, Ty. Here comes Josh.

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Beginning Wednesday, Josh Gibson will become MLB’s official career leading hitter, The Athletic reported. Major League Baseball plans to officially incorporate Negro Leagues statistics into its record book, adding the records of 2,300 players who competed from 1920 through 1948. Those players had the numbers but were denied entry into the majors because of their race.

The move comes 3½ years after MLB said it would officially include the Negro Leagues statistics into the record books with major league numbers, The Washington Post reported.

That means that Gibson’s career batting average of .372 will now be recognized as the highest in the game’s history, six points ahead of Ty Cobb’s .366. Cobb’s average was .367 for years, but research showed that the Georgia Peach’s lifetime batting record was a point lower. No other player in MLB history had come close, with Rogers Hornsby second at .358, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

That is, until now. Gibson will now take over the top spot held by Cobb since he retired after the 1928 season.

“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 career and seasons,” Larry Lester, an author and longtime Negro Leagues researcher, told The Athletic. “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.”

In addition to owning the career batting average, Gibson’s .466 mark with the 1943 Homestead Grays is now the single-season standard, according to The Associated Press. Charlie “Chino” Smith’s .451 for the 1929 New York Lincoln Giants is now second; both players are ahead of the .440 mark of Hugh Duffy set in 1894 with the Boston Beaneaters of the National League, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

Gibson was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, voted into baseball’s shrine by the Negro League Committee. He died in January 1947, three months before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s modern color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Gibson takes over several other records. His career slugging percentage of .718 tops the mark of .690 that Babe Ruth has held since the New York Yankees Hall of Famer retired in 1935. Gibson, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound catcher, also is the new leader in OPS -- on-base plus slugging percentage -- with a 1.177 mark. That tops Ruth’s record of 1.164.

Gibson’s OPS of 1.474 in 1937 and 1.435 in 1943 are now No. 1 in baseball history, topping Barry Bonds’ 1.421 mark in 2004, USA Today reported.

Gibson’s great-grandson said he was thrilled that his grandfather will be recognized as the MLB leader in its power categories.

“When you hear Josh Gibson’s name now, it’s not just that he was the greatest player in the Negro Leagues,’’ Sean Gibson, told USA Today. “But one of the greatest of all time. These aren’t just Negro League stats. They’re major-league baseball stats.

Researchers have accumulated 72% of the boxscores from the 29 seasons that will count in the new statistics, Gary Ashwill of the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database, which has been a major source for Negro Leagues stats, told the San Francisco Chronicle. If more boxscores are discovered, the statistics will be updated, according to the newspaper.

“This initiative is focused on ensuring that future generations of fans have access to the statistics and milestones of all those who made the Negro Leagues possible,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “Their accomplishments on the field will be a gateway to broader learning about this triumph in American history and the path that led to Jackie Robinson’s 1947 Dodger debut.”

The Pittsburgh Pirates released the following statement from Pirates Chairman, Bob Nutting:.

“This is a historical moment for the game of baseball as these great players will forever be recognized within Major League Baseball’s official record books. Congratulations to all these great players, especially Pittsburgh’s own Josh Gibson. The Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays are an important part of the rich history of baseball in Pittsburgh. The Pirates have long celebrated these great teams and players such as Josh Gibson, Ray Brown, Oscar Charleston, Buck Leonard and so many others for their tremendous accomplishments. Whether it is in our Pirates Hall of Fame, the large baseballs on the riverwalk, the Crawfords and Grays Championship banners, the many other displays throughout PNC Park, or the support of educational displays and programs within our community, we are proud to continue to share the stories of these great players for generations to come.”

Josh Gibson's great-grandson also sat down with Channel 11, saying that today is more about baseball stats, but about educating the community about Negro League players.

>>> ‘Today is a great day’: Josh Gibson’s great-grandson reacts to MLB incorporating Negro Leagues stats

“Of course we know the Josh Gibsons’, the Satchel Paiges’, the Cool Papa Bells’ and a Buck Leonards’,” Sean Gibson said. “But there’s also gonna be some names that are going to be recognized that we’re very excited about.”

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