One for the Record Books

History Professor Helps Rewrite the History of Major League Baseball

By Tina Smith, for Kent State Regional Campuses

Leslie Heaphy, Ph.D., usually teaches history in her classroom at Kent State University at Stark. Now, this professor is helping to rewrite it at the home of Major League Baseball in Cooperstown, New York.

As a member of the Negro Leagues Statistical Review Committee, she helped spearhead a movement that led to MLB’s recent decision to incorporate Negro League statistics into baseball’s official historical record. This means that more than 2,300 players from seven different Negro Leagues, active from 1920 to 1948, are now elevated to major league player status and included in the MLB database.

“The only reason these players were not in the record books already was because Major League Baseball kept them out,” Heaphy said. “Now, we are working to bring these players and their stories to the larger public.”

A homerun for inclusion

The Negro Leagues Statistical Review Committee includes former players, league experts, historians, researchers and journalists. Heaphy is one of 16 committee members.

“This official committee was created in early 2023, but the effort to gather the stats has been going on for years,” she explained. “The talk about these stats began with the MLB announcement in 2020 declaring seven Negro Leagues as Major League.”

Jackie Robinson courtesy Pixabay

Jackie Robinson was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in in 1962 following his playing time with the Brooklyn Dodger but he began his professional career in 1945 with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. Photo courtesy: Pixabay, Janeb13.

The Negro Leagues resulted from segregation in America when Black baseball players were denied careers in professional leagues, forcing them to form their own. The Negro Leagues ended shortly after Jackie Robinson became a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

“All of us who love baseball have long known that the Negro Leagues produced many of our game’s best players, innovations and triumphs against a backdrop of injustice,” said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred in a recent press release. “We are now grateful to count the players of the Negro Leagues where they belong: as Major Leaguers within the official historical record.”

Heaphy noted that there were hurdles the committee faced to reach this point, including finding box scores and validating some of the discovered information. “One of the biggest issues to overcome is how to consider the shorter schedules played by Negro League teams compared to white Major League teams.”

Denise A. Seachrist, Ph.D., dean at Kent State Stark, said the campus is proud of Heaphy’s work.

“We are immensely proud,” Seachrist said. “This milestone is not only vital for providing a complete historical account of baseball but also underscores the critical role that higher education and faculty scholarship play in preserving and promoting the legacies of historically overlooked communities. By bringing these significant contributions to light, we ensure that all achievements are recognized and honored.”

Swinging for the fences

The inclusion of Negro League statistics with MLB records is a major milestone for Heaphy and the committee — but she said its work is not finished.

“We are never done,” she explained. “There are always more statistics to find and stories to tell. The stats are only one part of the picture. The stories behind them are what I think are really important. The stories tell more about what the numbers only hint at: time period, context, personal and so forth.

“I hope people view this as an opportunity to learn more about the great Black players from the Negro Leagues and beyond,” she continued. “Baseball’s history is so much more than what most people know.”

About Dr. Leslie Heaphy:

As a graduate student at the University of Toledo in 1988, from where she earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in history, Heaphy began researching the history of baseball and became involved in the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) in 1989.

For the past 35 years, she has been active in researching and recording the history of the Negro Leagues and women in baseball, making her a recognized authority on these subjects. She has been a leader of the SABR’s Women in Baseball Committee since 1995 and helps organize the annual Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference that promotes Black baseball history.

In 2014, Heaphy received the Bob Davis Award, the SABR’s highest honor, in recognition of her countless contributions to the recording of baseball history.

Her published works include her book The Negro Leagues, 1869-1960; Satchel Paige and Company: Essays on the Kansas City Monarchs, Their Greatest Star and the 

The Negro Leagues Book by Leslie Heaphy, Ph.D.

 Negro Leagues; Black Baseball and Chicago: Essays on the Players, Teams and Games of the Negro Leagues Most Important City; and The Encyclopedia of Women and Baseball.  Additionally, she is the founding editor of Black Ball: A Negro Leagues Journal.










POSTED: Wednesday, June 5, 2024 12:09 PM
Updated: Friday, June 7, 2024 01:03 PM