As MLB changes its records, Josh Gibson, not Ty Cobb, is the all-time hitting leader

It was an article of faith nearly a century ago, as if Abner Doubleday himself had been carved into a tablet: The leading hitter in major league history is, and always will be, Tyrus Raymond Cobb.

But history evolves. We know that Doubleday did not actually invent baseball. As of Wednesday, Josh Gibson will replace Cobb as the leading hitter in the game’s official records. At .372, Gibson’s career batting average beats Cobb by six points.

Major League Baseball on Wednesday will announce the results of a newly integrated statistical database covering records from the Negro Leagues that operated from 1920 to 1948. The official acceptance of the data comes three and a half years after MLB officially recognized the Negro Leagues as the Major Leagues in December 2020.

“People are going to feel, I don’t know if it’s an uncomfortable word, but they might be uncomfortable with some of the Negro League stars now on the leaderboards of their careers and seasons,” said Larry Lester, an author and longtime Negro Leagues scholar who served in the Negro Leagues. . The Commission.

“Purists may not accept statistics, but that’s OK. I welcome conversations at the bar, barbershop or pool hall. That’s why we do what we do.”

Career batting middle leaders

player Batting average

Josh Gibson


Ty Cobb


Oscar Charleston


Rogers Hornsby


Jude Wilson

.three hundred fifty

Türkiye Stearns


Ed Delahanty


Buck Leonard


Tris speaker


Ted Williams


With the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants playing a game at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, next month, the timing was right for the committee’s findings to be announced, said John Thorne, MLB’s official historian. Thorne estimated that about 75 percent of all hits recorded in the Negro Leagues have been documented, and that MLB will update the records as more are revealed.

To some extent, the Negro League numbers will always be a work in progress. Barnstorming games, considered essential as the financial lifeblood of Negro League teams, were not included in the statistics.

“For example, the Kansas City Monarchs travel to Chicago, and once they get to town, they play as many games as they can,” Lester said. “So instead of a three-game series, they play five games – and on the way there, they might stop in Moline and play the local team to get some change.

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“Based on the players I interviewed, they say they played almost every day, sometimes two or three games a day and not in the same location. So they were probably playing 150 to 175 games a year, but only 60 to 80 games counted in the rankings.” League.

Those shorter official seasons, as MLB noted in a statement announcing the change, naturally lead to some “leader extremes.” But the league has verified a 60-game season during the COVID-19 pandemic, however as a recent precedent, Thorne said, it also makes sense to verify Negro League seasons.

“The irregularity of their league schedules, which were determined in the spring but improvised by the summer, was not of their making but was born instead from MLB’s elimination practices,” MLB said in the statement.

The committee used the same statistical minimum for the Negro League leaders as it did for the American and National Leagues: 3.1 plate appearances or one run per scheduled team game. Scheduled games range from 26 (Negro American League, 1942) to 91 (1st Negro National League, 1927).

The new accounting not only gives Gibson the record for career batting average, but also the single-season mark of 0.466 in 1943, followed by Chino Smith’s 0.451 in 1929. The previous record, Hugh Duffy’s mark of 0.440 for Boston in 1894, fell. the third.

Batting average in a season

name average (season)

Josh Gibson

.466 (1943)

Chino Smith

.451 (1929)

Hugh Duffy

.440 (1894)

Oscar Charleston

.434 (1921)

Charlie Blackwell

.432 (1921)

Ross Barnes

.429 (1876)

Oscar Charleston

.427 (1925)

Suttles the Mule

.425 (1926)

Willie Keeler

.424 (1897)

Rogers Hornsby

.424 (1924)

However, in Baseball Reference, Gibson’s .466 is not listed in bold in his career ledger. That’s because another Gibson League hitter, Tetilo Vargas of the New York Coppins, hit .471, which the site considers the career record.

Vargas is credited with 136 plate appearances that season. But MLB considers the league schedule to be 47 games, so Vargas falls short of the 146-game MLB appearance minimum required to be recognized as a league leader.

On Baseball Reference’s single-season batting average leaderboard, Vargas and Gibson are trailed by another .466 hitter — Lyman Bostock Sr., the father of the Twins and Angels’ star outfielder who was killed after a game in Chicago in 1978.

Bostock Sr. 466 mark is recognized by Baseball Reference as the highest average in 1941 (which is why Ted Williams’ legendary .406 mark for the Red Sox in 1941 is not listed in italics on the site). But MLB doesn’t recognize the average Bostock Sr. in the new single-season leaderboard, because he did so in just 84 games.

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“That’s the difference,” said Sean Foreman, president of Sports Reference LLC. “In all the Negro League statistics, there are games missed; We may have the score of the game that was played, but we don’t have the box score of it.

“So I look at Bostock in 1941. We have a record 23 plate appearances for him, and we have the Birmingham Black Barons (Bostock’s team) with 45 plate appearances that season. So Bostock, with 84 plate appearances, would be 3.1 (threshold) under 45 times. The thing is, it’s more than 3.1 per game for those games where we have box scores. We use that number as a way to determine the minimum.

“We have certain reasons for making the choices we made, and MLB has certain reasons for making the choices they made.”

Ty Cobb’s career average has long been the highest mark in MLB. (Images reproduced by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)

Baseball Reference uses Negro League statistics from the Seamheads database, a project that Lester said began with a grant from MLB in 2000. Researchers Gary Ashwell and Kevin Johnson exhaustively researched the box-checked scores, and while both were on the committee, it took It’s been years. For MLB and the Seamheads to agree to implement the data.

“There were tough negotiations,” Thorne admitted. “And part of the difficulty was not financial – this was almost one-sided and agreed upon – it was how the statistics would be used and the level of engagement that Seamheads might have on an ongoing basis. It took a long time to reach an agreement, but once we reached an agreement, we Bringing in Retrosheet as an additional statistical partner and of course, we already had Elias as our official statisticians, responsible for auditing the data.

Professional operations

name Project Services Office

Josh Gibson


Babe Ruth


Ted Williams


Lou Gehrig


Oscar Charleston


Barry Bonds


Buck Leonard


Jamie Foxx


Türkiye Stearns


Suttles the Mule


It took more than two years for these entities to come together. But once they did, the pace seemed to quicken. Thorne said that the committee was keen to rely only on the results, and not just match calculations. For example, Gibson reportedly struck out four batters in a 1938 game, but with no points in the box, there is no way to make all the numbers correct.

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“If a man hits a home run, he hits it off someone else,” Thorne said. “Therefore, absent the double-entry accounting required to provide balance for the complete historical record of Major League Baseball, we cannot make exceptions to anecdotal evidence.”

Career era

name Era

Ed Walsh


Adi Joss


Mordecai Brown


John Ward


Christy Mathewson


Rob Waddell


Walter Johnson


Dave Brown


Tommy Bond


Will White


Likewise, Thorne said, a game account from 1948 says Willie Mays returned to Birmingham. But without a box score to verify it, Mays’ career home run total remains at 660 — all with the Giants and Mets.

The records are not complete, but they are accurate in terms of what they cover, as far as MLB is concerned. Extensive research requires this.

“It takes me about 30 minutes to enter a single box score – line by line, number by number, and then I do data integrity checks at the end of the season,” Lester said. “I have about 16,000 box results in my database, so it took years to do the job.

“But it’s fun. We welcome critics and skeptics. But we know the numbers are strong.”

Lester said that decades ago, people told him that the numbers simply didn’t exist, and that African Americans were indifferent to recording baseball history. He’s proud to have helped upend that trope, revealing the numbers that validate the achievements of Oscar Charleston, Paulette Rogan, Turkey Stearns and others.

Redacted records – even if certified as official records – will not affect everyone. Leicester understands that. Despite careful record-keeping, questions of segregation could never be resolved.

“Critics will say, ‘Well, (Gibson) only played against other black teams,’” Lester said. “Well, Babe Ruth never hit a home run off a black pitcher, and Josh Gibson never hit a home run off a white pitcher. So I guess my point is that the amount or lack of melanin does not indicate the greatness of a ballplayer.

(Top photo of Gibson statue in Washington, D.C.: Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

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