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Negro Leagues

Let the Negro Leagues elections begin!

We’re going to do this! We spent much of last year hinting at Negro Leagues elections. I think we might have even said we’d do it. We did lots (and lots[and lots {and lots}]) of necessary background work. You can read all about all of it on our Negro Leagues page. Finally, we can say that we’re going to start rolling out the results of our Negro Leagues honorees out. Here’s how it’s going to work.

How It’s Going to Work!

In the first place, you know by now that we’ve created and published about a skillion Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Negro Leaguers. Based on those MLEs, we’ve narrowed down the field to the following legends and less-well-known candidates:

F = Hall of Fame
M= Hall of Merit

Regino Garcia
Josh Gibson (F,M)
Gervasio Gonzalez
Biz Mackey (F,M)
Louis Santop (F,M)
Quincy Trouppe (M)

Buck Leonard (F,M)
Bill Pettus
Mule Suttles (F,M)
Ben Taylor (F)

Walter “Rev” Cannaday
George “Tubby” Scales
Bunny Serrell
Marv Williams

Ray Dandridge
Carlos Moran
Jud Wilson

Sam Bankhead
John “Boom Boom” Beckwith
Bus Clarkson
Silvio Garcia
Grant “Home Run” Johnson
John Henry “Pop” Lloyd
Dick Lundy
Dobie Moore
Willie Wells


Cool Papa Bell
Willard “Home Run” Brown
Oscar Charleston
Martín Dihigo
Pete Hill
Sam Jethroe
Alejandro Oms
Lazaro Salazar
Turkey Stearnes
Cristobal Torriente

Harry Buckner
Oscar “Heavy” Johnson
Hurley McNair
Burnis “Wild Bill” Wright

Dave Barnhill
Ramon Bragaña
Ray Brown
Bill Byrd
Andy Cooper
Roosevelt Davis
Rube Foster
Willie Foster
Conrado Marrero
Jose Mendez
Satchel Paige
Wilbur “Bullet” Rogan
Carlos Royer
Hilton Smith
Roy Welmaker
Smokey Joe Williams

This information is now captured in our new, revamped, and easier to parse Home Stats. You can always find it on our honorees page.

From among these 58 fellows, we will choose 29 to match the total number of Negro Leagues players the Hall of Fame has elected. We’ll start with the no-brainer, inner-circle studs, and slowly work our way outward toward the less-certain studs. Starting in two weeks, we’ll reveal one honoree per week. First, however, we’ll do a little thought experiment about how many Negro Leaguers the various Halls should elect.

The letter/and or spirit of the rules

The rules around here remind us that we must be fair to all positions and eras. We strive for balance, of course, not perfect equality, and even that in the Negro Leagues is hard to achieve.

Positionally speaking, you’ll notice that we have zero left fielder up for bids. Not coincidence. In the Negro Leagues, talent congregated at three skill-intensive positions: catcher, shortstop, and centerfield. The right- and left-handed athletes played short and center respectively, and there was a torrent of talent at those two slots, as you can see above. Catchers, well, they’re a different breed, but the Negro Leagues pumped out a lot of good ones. The second tier consists of first base, third base, and right field. Each positions with some element of skill or special requirement. Then comes the second basemen. Then, way down the line, comes the left fielders.

In other words, you’re gong to see a lot of up-the-middle players if we were to guess. And we won’t care if things look a little untidy by position because that was just how things went.

Chronologically speaking, we have a different kind of murk in play. Black baseball as we might conceive of it basically began in the 1880s. There’s very little statistical evidence of those players’ achievements, nor is there much in the 1890s. No league lasted more than a couple weeks. So there’s no much likelihood of our electing any very early players. One might have a shot, but until we get into the generation commencing in the 1890s, the pickins will be slim. For that matter, the number of known and corroborated games in the early 1900s ain’t exactly hefty. It’s not until a few years later that we start to see some players’ stats bulk out a bit.

In a nutshell: You’ll probably mostly see guys from roughly 1905 to 1955.

We have arrived

How will Miller and I arrive at our decisions? Well, it’s a little more complicated than we or you are likely used to from us. There’s a few major sources of decision information, and each has its limitations. Let’s pick ’em apart.

Our MLEs: In some ways this is the simplest source since you can tell about 99% of how the sausage gets made from our explainers. It’s a protocol with relatively few subjective elements. It’s the quality of the inputs that counts most.

The inputs/available performance data: This includes several categories of stats:

  • The data that goes into our MLE sausage grinder from BBREF (MLB and minor leagues) and The Negro Leagues Database
  • Data that does not go into the sausage but is complete enough t some evidentiary power, primarily minor leagues and Cuban leagues data that doesn’t have batters’ walks or, for pitchers, innings pitched, games, and/or runs allowed
  • Negro Leagues Database data for players without enough career statistical info to do MLEs, primarily Frank Grant

Narrative information: Our least favorite because of its inherent subjectivity, but if enough narrative sources agree about something, that agreement itself can prove confirmatory of certain questions MLEs raise.

The thing about all these information sources is they change, sometimes quickly, and sometimes painfully slowly. The Negro Leagues Database tacks on one to three seasons of data a year, sometimes more. They also add newly discovered and corroborated games for existing seasons as they become available. Meanwhile, we have no expectation that BBREF or anyone else will be filling in missing minor leagues data anytime soon. The upshot is that many players whom we’re deciding on have quite limited data. We’ve created a data-completeness score indexed against all MLEs. It’s helpful, and even one full season can make a big difference in a guy’s case and change, sometimes drastically, what we think we know about a player.

Hence, the slow rollout of our honorees. By easing them out one at a time, we give Gary A, Dan, KJOK, and the boys time to add more data to the Negro Leagues Database, which will help a lot.

Some backsies but no givsies or throwaways

Because of all this uncertainty we’re talking about, we reserve the right to change our minds, even after we’ve elected someone. We aren’t doing that at the big-league level, but for the Negro Leagues, where the information is evolving, we do. You know, when the Hall elected Judy Johnson, no one blinked. They had no stats, they only had eyewitness accounts. Now, our MLEs show that electing Johnson would be like electing Jeff Cirillo. It’s not because the committee on the Negro Leagues did a bad job. Rather, they had even worse evidence than some of the old timers committees had at various points in Hall history. We can do better, and we don’t have to worry about the cost of forging bronze, so if we need to unelect to get it right, we will.

We don’t mean to hedge bets or diverge from our mission to show the Hall how it’s done. We think the Hall needs to get it right, but we recognize the big limitations it’s faced with the Negro Leagues. So instead of criticizing the coop, we offer our alternative as a tribute to Negro Leagues stars. Getting it right for them is the right thing to do.

And let’s not forget

Lastly, once we finish our player elections, we’ll match the Hall’s one Negro Leagues manager and five Negro Leagues pioneer/executive honorees. The form of those elections actually should prove really interesting with four strong candidates with great records and very different stories and settings.

And away we go!

Thanks for sticking with us on this. We’re excited to share the results with you. And we’re just as excited to hear what you have to say about them. Look for our little think-tank ditty next week, and then we’ll get things moving. Viva las Ligas Negros!



9 thoughts on “Let the Negro Leagues elections begin!

  1. Posted the day after Black History Month ends? What’s got into you, Eric? LOL

    As for the content of the post – hallelujah! Can’t wait!

    Posted by BigKlu | March 1, 2019, 7:39 am
  2. No Frank Warfield at 2nd?
    Sorry you can’t find the info on either Frank Grant or Bud Fowler (19th Cent).
    Nice list and I’ll be waiting. Good luck to you over the next 29 weeks.

    Posted by verdun2 | March 1, 2019, 9:20 am
    • Basically, I ran Warfield thru my protocol, and he came out far enough below par that he wasn’t really worth talking much about. There is info on the Fowler and Grant, but it’s scant or lacks some of the wider league info we need to estimate performance.

      Posted by eric | March 1, 2019, 9:26 am
  3. Awesome news, guessing Dick “Cannonball” Redding was an accidental oversight from the consideration set?

    Your spreadsheet also shows Barney Brown at 60.2 bWAR.

    Posted by Ryan | March 1, 2019, 11:59 am
    • Wow! Can’t believe I’d missed Redding. His total is around 85 WAR, fourth or fifth highest. Brown is correct…for the moment. We lack data for several seasons, and his peak isn’t very peakish, which can mean that a couple bad or merely hohum seasons can bring him down.

      Posted by eric | March 1, 2019, 12:12 pm
  4. YAY! Also, you lost your (F) and (M) designations after 1st base list…

    Posted by KJOK | March 2, 2019, 8:33 pm
  5. One glaring omission that I’m wondering about: Monte Irvin. I know his career was split more evenly between the NeL and ML than maybe any other player, so are you considering him a ML player with the added NeL MLE’s or did he somehow just not make the cut for NeL consideration?

    Posted by Michael Mengel | March 5, 2019, 11:36 am

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