[Baltimore Sun] Jud Wilson and other Baltimore Negro Leagues stars now part of MLB record books

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Seventy years after he called it a career, 61 after his death and 18 after he was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Jud Wilson has an official place in the record books.

Major League Baseball announced on Tuesday the completion of a three-year study of over 2,300 Negro Leagues players, unveiling new leaderboards that incorporate the statistics of Black major leaguers who played in one of seven Negro Leagues from 1920 to 1948.

Josh Gibson, not Ty Cobb, is now the all-time batting champion. Satchel Paige, not Bob Gibson, has the lowest single-season ERA since World War I.

“We are proud that the official historical record now includes the players of the Negro Leagues,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “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. 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.”

Wilson played for the Baltimore Black Sox, one of the two recognized Baltimore-based Negro League teams, from 1923 to 1929 as part of a 21-year career split among the Eastern Colored League, American Negro League, East-West League and Negro National League II. The intense, hard-hitting infielder was one of the greatest players of his era and he stuffed the box score on a regular basis. MLB now acknowledges his .350 career batting average as fifth best in major league history, trailing only Josh Gibson’s  .372, Cobb’s .367, Oscar Charleston’s .363 and Rogers Hornsby’s .358.

Wilson also ranks 10th in on-base percentage (.434) and 21st in OPS (.960). The lack of a full schedule for some Negro Leagues teams, combined with missing records for many games, prevented him from ever playing more than 76 games in a season — and kept him and others from appearing near the top of any counting stat leaderboards — but he won two batting titles with Baltimore, including a .422 average in 1927 that sits 13th all time.

MLB set unique standards for Negro Leagues players to qualify for its major league leaderboards. Players who spent their entire careers in the Negro Leagues require at least 1,800 at-bats or 600 innings innings pitched, compared with 5,000 at-bats and 2,000 innings for MLB leaders. The study is not yet finished, either. The researchers assigned to the project estimate it’s approximately 75% complete, which means more players could pop up on leaderboards and statistics might be adjusted moving forward.

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Other Baltimore-based Negro League standouts include Roy Campanella, who spent eight seasons with the Baltimore Elite Giants before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948. The boost Campanella receives for his Negro Leagues stats push his RBI total up to 1,019, making him one of 303 players in major league history to drive in 1,000 or more runs. Willie Wells, a Hall of Fame infielder who played 53 games with the Baltimore Elite Giants in 1946, ranks 36th in MLB history in batting average (.328) and 30th in OPS (.943).

Hall of Famer and two-way star Leon Day, who grew up in Baltimore and played for the Black Sox as a rookie in 1934, joins Bob Feller as the only two pitchers to throw a no-hitter on opening day. The Elite Giants’ Bill Byrd, another two-way player, becomes another statistical unicorn in the neighborhood of Babe Ruth and Shohei Ohtani. In 1941, Byrd won an ERA title on the mound with a mark of 2.23 and hit .298 at the plate. Ruth achieved both of those statistics in the same season three times, but Ohtani never has.

Black Sox right-hander Joe Strong, who also hit .268 in his career, now holds the record for the longest no-hitter with his 11-inning performance in the first game of a doubleheader July 31, 1927. His teammate Laymon Yokely paced the team’s assigned league in strikeouts in back-to-back seasons from 1928 to 1929; he’s the only pitcher in Baltimore’s major league history to lead his respective league in strikeouts in consecutive seasons.

Outfielder Henry Kimbro also gets credit for winning a batting title for the Elite Giants with a .385 average in 1947. That mark ranks just outside the top 100 in major league history for a single season.

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