This commissioner gotta commission better

Commissioner Rob Manfred hands a piece of metal to 2020 World Series-winning Dodgers co-owner Mark Walter.

Once upon a time, when Ed Fitzgerald chaired the Milwaukee Brewers and former Red Sox star George Scott was their first baseman, Scott surveyed the lay of the team’s baseball land. Then, he offered Fitzgerald sage counsel which the chairman may or may not have taken above and beyond a shaft of Scott’s underappreciated wit.

“You know, Mr. Fitzgerald,” said the Boomer, “if we’re gonna win, the players gotta play better, the coaches gotta coach better, the manager gotta manage better, and the owners gotta own better.” It’s to wonder whether Scott, who died in 2013, might be surveying the lay of baseball’s land today from his seat in the Elysian Fields, adding, “And, the commissioner gotta commission better.”

Good luck with that. Commissioner Rob Manfred remains baseball’s Nero, fiddling while the game burns. The good news is, the fires are scattered and more vulnerable than the current edition of the Pirates. The bad news is, Manfred too often behaves as though this fire needs just a couple of sprinkles to quench while that fire requires gasoline. When he’s able to make up his mind in the first place.

The fact that there is confusion about whether or not there will be a universal DH in MLB for the upcoming season,” tweets former Dodgers and Mets player development official Nick Francona, perhaps channeling his inner George Scott, “is a reflection of how bad the commissioner is at doing commissioner things.”

Commissioner things include something outlined formally in the Major League Baseball Constitution: Section 2(b) and 2(c) let the commissioner investigate and remedy or punish “any act, transaction, or practise charged, suspected, or alleged not to be in the best interests of the national game of Baseball.”  Section 3 outlines the commissioner’s punitive remedies, including the maximum $2 million fine against a team, $500,000 fine against an owner or club executive, and “an amount consistent with the then-current basic agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association.”

In other words, baseball commissioners have slightly broader powers over the game than presidents of the United States have over the country. But they don’t always use those powers when they should and ignore them when they shouldn’t.

Think of things this way: Presidents have itched for grander powers than that chintzy Constitution gave them in the first place. Sometimes they’ve gotten them; sometimes, Congress has handed them to the president on a platter. But even there the president has his (or her, perhaps, in the future) limits, even if he (she) accepts them kicking and screaming.

Richard Nixon once thought that if the president does it it’s not illegal–and was disabused of that idea profoundly enough. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama shamelessly believed, as Clinton’s aide Paul Begala once said, infamously, “Stroke of the pen, law of the land. Kinda cool,” regarding lawmaking which isn’t really the executive branch’s constituted function, though assorted Congresses past have pawned enough of their lawmaking off to the executive branch. Donald Trump once said, “Then I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”

Maybe those men should have sought to become baseball commissioners. Section 4 of the MLB Constitution says that, unless it’s something on which votes are required, the commish can’t be limited in acting in the game’s best interest.

Tanking teams? Guess what. Section 4 says the integrity of the game “shall include without limitation, as determined by the Commissioner, the ability of, and the public perception that, players and clubs perform and compete at all times to the best of their abilities.” (Emphasis added.) For clubs, you’d have to be naive at minimum or sight and hearing impaired at maximum to believe a club’s performance is limited to the play on the field.

Astrogate? Well, it was fully within Manfred’s right to decide the better part of valour was to hand players on the 2017-18 Astros blanket immunity in return for spilling about the how and why of the Astro Intelligence Agency. That doesn’t mean it was within his smarts. So the Astros got fined $5 million max, owner Jim Crane got fined five hundred large, Manfred threw in a couple of forfeited choice draft picks for good measure, and—except for general manager Jeff Luhnow—the cheaters got away with it officially, if not in the public eye.

If only the powers to act in the game’s best interest included the kind of intelligence test that would have required Manfred to remember the good of the game isn’t restricted to making or saving money for it. He could have told the tankers, “Nobody likes to lose, money or games, but if you didn’t get into this game to even try winning you might want to think about getting out.”

(P.S. The commissioner can force an ownership out, at least by way of calling for a vote to throw him or her out. There’s no “deprivation of property rights” involved, as someone of my former acquaintance tried to plead when Bud Selig finally forced Dodgers owner Frank McCourt to sell. Baseball’s a franchise business. Just like McDonald’s. Break the rules, abuse your franchise, you’re out, whether you’re making Big Macs or a baseball team.)

Manfred had the same power to tell the 2017-18 Astro players, “You’re going to spill, or I’m going to spill you.” The Astros might not have even thought about trying that non-apologetic apology/apologetic non-apology presser last year before the pan-damn-ic shut spring training down.

And Manfred could have made an effort toward more than near-boilerplate in denouncing cheating, the way A. Bartlett Giamatti—then president of the National League—did in upholding the suspension of ball-doctoring Phillies pitcher Kevin Gross, even if Manfred isn’t anywhere in Giamatti’s league as a writer, speaker, or thinker:

Acts of cheating . . . are secretive, covert acts that strike at and seek to undermine the basic foundation of any contest declaring the winner—that all participants play under identical rules and conditions. Acts of cheating destroy that necessary foundation and thus strike at the essence of a contest. They destroy faith in the games’ integrity and fairness; if participants and spectators alike cannot assume integrity and fairness and proceed from there, the contest cannot in its essence exist.

Manfred’s ham-handed bid to try tying the universal DH to the expanded postseason was so clumsy—though not quite as clumsy as his try at reneging on the pro-rated players’ pay deal before last year’s irregular season finally launched—that you couldn’t blame the players union from saying no, nein, and nyet. The commissioner also gives little indication that he understands the former’s benefit to the game on the field and the latter’s compromise of it.

Has anyone shown Manfred the historical futility of pitchers at the plate instead of throwing to it? (Does he even know the DH was a National League idea first?) Has anyone explained to him the universal DH isn’t going to add jobs as much as it’ll offer a fair number incumbent pine riders chances to get in the game, because they may not be leather virtuosi but they can sure swing the bat and create runs?

Has anyone really sat Manfred down to explain that the postseason was diluted and saturated already with the double wild cards in each league without his even thinking about making last year’s pan-damnic-ally inspired expansion/dilution a permanent thing? Has anyone explained to Manfred that the more postseason games, the more saturation, and the more general fan interest dissipates by the time the World Series rolls around?

All that and more might require something that seems beyond Manfred’s competence, if not his being. Whatever errors his predecessor and former boss Bud Selig committed, and Selig was baseball’s Fiorello La Guardia in that regard (the legendary New York City mayor: When I make a mistake, it’s a beaut), even his least flexible critics never questioned that Selig genuinely loved baseball.

Few fans and certainly no commissioner before or since have been as eloquently shameless in loving baseball as deeply as the ill-fated Giamatti loved the game. It’s not even close. But not even in anger would Selig refer to the World Series trophy as just a piece of metal, under any impetus. Dive into the voluminous published writings about his successor and you won’t go more than a few minutes without seeing questions as to whether Manfred even likes, never mind loves the game. One minute it seems yes, the next, no.

Baseball hasn’t been quite as irrevocably “traditional” as its self-appointed purists wish to think. Much like the country that is its home, the game has rid itself of dubious traditions in the past and created or allowed newer ones throughout its history. It takes a commissioner of vision to conjugate the distinctions and develop or promote the remedies required if and when required.

Manfred isn’t exactly a man of vision. Unless you consider monkeying around with the ball, awarding free cookies on second base to open extra half innings, imposing arbitrary limits on pitching changes, ignoring the real culprit of protracted games (hint: it takes less time to bring relief pitchers in and have them ready to face the next batters than to run the commercials that run during those changes), and fiddling while the tankers burn the their fans and the game itself visionary.

It’s enough to make you afraid of what’s going to happen when the current collective bargaining agreement finally does expire after this season. That is, unless Manfred and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark—himself not necessarily over-endowed with vision—decide at last to start thinking about the true good of the game above and beyond saving or making money for it.

Maybe it’s time to consider a different way to choose a baseball commissioner. From the beginning, the commissioner has been the owners’ pick alone. Maybe it’s finally (if not long past) time to bring the players into that process. Maybe it’s time for a commissioner to be chosen from a vote of thirty team ownership representatives and thirty team player representatives.

Quick: Name one fan who ever paid his or her hard earned dough for a day or night at the ballpark to see the team’s owner—except perhaps for lusty protest over protracted calamity. (Who else remembers the Yankee Stadium Banner Day winner of the late 1980s, wearing a monk’s outfit, carrying a Grim Reaper’s scythe, from which hung the placard, “Forgive him, Father, for he knows not what he does”—and ejected from the yard promptly on official orders?)

Manfred is in over his head holding the job. He shouldn’t have had the job in the first place. But so long as he does—barring an uprising among his employers, the owners, he has it through the end of 2024—this commissioner gotta commission better.

No 2021 expanded postseason or universal DH. Guess which one should stay—forever.

Marcell Ozuna, one of the men who helped the Braves’ 2020 designated hitters out-hit the rest of the Show’s.

The good news, as reported by The Athletic Wednesday evening: last year’s expanded-to-the-stretching-point major league postseason won’t happen this year—so far. The bad news, as reported by the same journal’s Evan Drellich: neither will the universal designated hitter return this year—so far.

I say “so far” because Drellich says reversals can never be ruled out, even though “both sides are proceeding as though there will not be any last-minute addition of the DH in the National League, or additional playoff teams from the current field of 10, for 2021.”

Here’s to hoping at least one reversal among the two is ruled in—and that it won’t be another expanded postseason past the customary three division winners and two wild cards in each league, either.

That’s the one that was agreed upon at the eleventh hour last year, after the owners tried pulling a few fast renegings on previous season agreements with the players and the players told them, appropriately, where to shove them. The one that ended up including two teams with losing records into the postseason at all.

Sound thinking required the hope that some way, some how, the Astros (29-31) and the Brewers (29-31 likewise) would bump, nudge, elbow, shove, kick, and bop their way past all comers and face each other in last year’s World Series. The reason: it would have shown only too vividly the absurdity of allowing losers or at least so many lesser winners (including the Astros and Brewers, there were ten wild card teams in the rounds) to even think about playing for a championship.

I’m not married till death do us part to tradition for its own sake, even in baseball. There have been traditions worth keeping and traditions worth sending to the place where the Edsel reposes and where the ball point pen, the bagless vacuum cleaner (go ahead, tell me you just love getting a faceful of dust when you empty the cup and those mounds of dirt hit the rest of the trash and recoil), and artificial baseball turf ought to repose.

Sound championship competition doesn’t deserve to end. “The players are concerned an expanded postseason harms competition,” Drellich writes, “disincentivizing teams from adding talent they would otherwise pursue for a chance to crack a smaller field. The league believes the effect would be the opposite, that the format would encourage teams to upgrade in an effort to claim additional spots.”

The players know the owners only too well. It would be nice, however, if they’d also speak up for two further points: 1) The more expanded the postseason remains, the greater chance for saturation than existed already, something you’d think the broadcasters buying postseason baseball would enunciate as well. 2) The harm to competition goes a lot deeper than just removing incentives for teams to improve on the fly.

If anything, the format rudely interrupted by last year’s pan-damn-ically provoked irregular season deserves to be reduced further. There’s already been a postseason saturation factor for a long enough time. There’s also no reason why the World Series should remain practically just another playoff round.

As things turned out, the two winningest teams in last year’s irregular seasons did wrestle their way to the World Series, and the Dodgers won it (at last!) in six gripping games. I say “winningest” instead of “best” because, in several ways, the irregular season stopped enough teams short of the chance they’d have had in a full season to re-horse and rise from the dead a la the 2019 Nationals. (19-31 after 23 May; 74-38 the rest of the season and, oh yes, they won the World Series.)

But wouldn’t real fans prefer to see a postseason such as what I’ve said before but will say again, and as often as necessary?

* If we must have three-division leagues, the wild cards should be eliminated and the division winner with the best season record should get a round-one bye while the other two division winners play a best-of-three division series.

* The bye team and the division series winner should play in a best-of-five League Championship Series. (There was a tradition worth keeping: from its 1969 birth through 1984, the LCS was a best-of-five.)

* The primacy of the best-of-seven World Series would be restored appropriately. The postseason saturation factor would likely reduce to zero. Teams would no longer have several disincentives, including and especially working toward playing for the thrills, chills, and spills of fighting to the last breath to finish . . . in second place.

Now, about that universal designated hitter. Bringing it aboard last year was as much a question of assuring pitchers’ health further as a question of sound baseball playing. Still.  “The DH in both leagues has long been of interest to the union,” Drellich writes, “because it means an additional talent set that teams would pay for and pursue.”

That’s only half right. Teams probably would pursue off-season free agents they might not think about otherwise in the instances of players whose defense is dubious but whose bats are true weapons. But speaking technically, absent a team signing a Marcell Ozuna or a Nelson Cruz the universal DH wouldn’t add jobs so much as create them for the incumbent pine riders whose defense would have them on trial for treason but whose bats would add runs to the scoreboard.

Incidentally, and I discovered it last October, the designated hitters in the National League (one of whose owners thought of the idea in the first place, in 1891)  out-hit the American League’s, and the Braves’ DHs out-hit everybody else’s. (The Braves’ DHs slashed .316/.411/.589 and a 1.000 OPS. They also hit more home runs than anyone else’s except the Twins’.) Did I mention again that six of the top ten teams’ DHs for OPS were National League teams?

Tell me now that you’d rather return and keep permanent all those .130/.161/.165-slashing  National League pitchers wasting a lineup spot that could be deployed better with solid bats—maybe even a second cleanup hitter or a technically extra leadoff type which, by the way, has been tried and not found wanting.

Tell me you absolutely must continue a lineup spot filled with batters who’ve hit about .166 on average from the advent of the live ball era through the end of the 21st century’s first decade. Show me one position player who’s going to have a major league job hitting like that even if he might be the second coming of Mark Belanger with the leather.

Tell me it was really worth all that waste just to have seen Bartolo Colon hit one out at long enough last, and to have watched him run it out like a pregnant hippopotamus on feet flatter than the first five lines of a Rob Manfred speech.

Tell me again Thomas Boswell was wrong when he wrote, “It’s fun to see Max Scherzer slap a single to right field and run it out like he thinks he’s Ty Cobb. But I’ll sacrifice that pleasure to get rid of the thousands of rallies I’ve seen killed when an inning ends with one pitcher working around a competent No. 8 hitter so he can then strike out the other pitcher. When you get in a jam in the AL, you must pitch your way out of it, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.”

Tell me it’s worth it to see a pitcher at the plate when no few pitchers have had careers interrupted, compromised, or ruined because of mishaps swinging or running the bases. (Sandy Koufax, Carlos Zambrano, Adam Wainwright, Steven Wright, Chien-Ming Wang, Masahiro Tanaka, Jacob deGrom, for openers, call your offices.)

You want to say those are outliers or aberrations? So are Don Drysdale being the 1965 Dodgers’ arguable best hitter, Madison Bumgarner hitting a pair of Opening Day home runs, and Shohei Ohtani, period—though Ohtani won’t be batting on the days he pitches. Try again.

The owners recently tried to strong-arm the players into accepting the continuing expanded postseason if they wanted the universal DH that badly. The players told them, politely but firmly, where they could shove that trade-off. Both sides should be thinking not of trade-offs but of sound baseball and the overall good of the game—which isn’t the same thing as merely making money for it or for them.

Baseball government letting the National League continue standing upon a nebulous tradition isn’t as grave or as grotesque as Kenesaw Mountain Landis allowing the major league game to remain segregated until the days after he died. But the time for ending the NL’s nebulous “tradition” is long past. The universal DH is sound, smart baseball the way expanded postseasons are not. It’s long past time to bring it aboard to stay.

Let the Negro Leagues records Show

Why should anyone fear to know exactly how many home runs Josh Gibson really hit in major league competition?

Have you ever heard of the Wilmington Quicksteps? They were a replacement team in the 1884 Union Association, after the Philadelphia Keystones folded down the stretch with a 21-46 record. The Quicksteps ruled the ancient Eastern League (forerunner of the AAA-level International League) to the point where fan interest collapsed.

Enter UA founder Henry Lucas. When the Keystones folded, Lucas invited the Quicksteps to replace them. That was the good news. The bad news: the Quicksteps played eighteen games, lost sixteen of them, and with several key players jumping the team to sign with other UA clubs for better pay, the Quicksteps stepped away and folded before the season ended.

Lucas owned the 1884 UA’s pennant winner—the St. Louis Maroons. He replaced the Quicksteps with the first club known to have been called the Milwaukee Brewers. After the season, both those Brewers and the entire UA folded. Now, the fun part: Because the Brewers played twelve games, won eight, and made for a .667 winning percentage, they were considered the league’s second-place finishers. (The Maroons won the pennant with a 94-19 record, if you’re scoring at home.)

What maroons! you say.

Folded but not forgotten. In 1968, after then-baseball commissioner William D. Eckert convened a panel to determine whom among the latter 19th Century’s professional leagues merited classification as major leagues, the UA was one of four leagues recognised thus. (The others: the 1882-91 American Association, the 1890 Players League, and the 1914-1915 Federal League.)

Thus do the Quicksteps’ 2-16 record, the Brewers’ 8-4 second-place finish, and all individual and team statistics therein, count as major league statistics. You can look them up, too, at either Baseball Reference or Retrosheet. (They list the Brewers as the Milwaukee Grays, by the way.) You’d be betting on a sure thing, too, if you suggest that no one otherwise gives a fig’s leaf about it.

But oh, doctor, did enough people give figs’ leaves about what to do about the records now that the seven known Negro Leagues have too-long-overdue major league status. (They weren’t even a topic before that 1968 panel.) Forget “you could look it up,” some of these people seemed to be afraid we were now going to blow it up.

Just a cursory tour through the social media swamps and lakes shows those who think Negro Leagues stats might distort the overall record, those who think they’ll screw up some Negro Leaguers who made what were then the majors, and even—so help me God I saw someone say this—maybe more than one fearing that Jackie Robinson’s and Branch Rickey’s accomplishment in 1947 would be diluted, diminished, deceased.

Need a reminder about a couple of things? Thomas Boswell—who made me aware of the Quicksteps in the first place—has a few. “MLB played just 60 games this past season, far fewer than many Negro League seasons,” he wrote Friday. “Yet the [Washington Nationals’] Juan Soto can claim his batting, slugging and on-base titles forever.”

Boswell says, plainly, let the records show. The keepers of baseball’s statistics and its flames have spent eons on expeditions to get the real records. So why shouldn’t the Negro Leagues get the same attention and respect now that they’re officially the group of major leagues that everyone with heart, soul, and brains knew they were in fact though not in official branding and badging?

What are the worriers worried about? That Willie Mays might lose three points on his lifetime hitting average (he would, down to .301) but gain a lifetime home run if his single season with the Birmingham Black Barons joins the major league books? That Josh Gibson might turn out not to have hit 800+ home runs? (At least not in official league competition.) That those and more changes might do what nobody with a brain would really suggest—dilute their actual greatness?

Try this one on. Jackie Robinson played the 1945 season with the Negro American League legend Kansas City Monarchs. (His teammates included Hall of Famer Satchel Paige and Double Duty Radcliffe.) His slash line was .414/.460/.569 in 63 games known on the record. Now that the Monarchs are an official major league team, guess what that does for Robinson so far? It bumps his hitting average to .314 but keeps his on-base percentage at .414 and his slugging percentage at .474.

Monte Irvin’s life as a New York Giant was compromised by a nasty ankle injury. Marry his known Newark Eagles (Negro National League II) stats to his Giants stats (and his one season as a Cub) and he’s got a .304 major league hitting average. He might even shake out higher when they finally exhume the complete statistics. (Surely you’ve read that, at the time Rickey made his move, his first target was Irvin, considered at the time the best in the Negro Leagues, but Irvin turned it down saying he wasn’t quite ready after missing time to World War II.)

Spare me the crap, too, about the Negro Leaguers not facing major league competition except in exhibition or barnstorm games. It wasn’t their fault. Nobody held the Show at gunpoint to force it to enforce a colour line. Nobody will ever know for dead last certain why team and league administrators in the seven Negro Leagues didn’t keep complete records that the mainstream newspapers wouldn’t.

In baseball’s first generation of desegregation, as slow on the uptake as it actually was, you saw just enough of what Negro Leagues players might do against their white competitors. Robinson has a .281/.333/.481 slash line with nine home runs against Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. Irvin went 2-for-4 against Hall of Famer Don Drysdale and posted a lovely .276/.383/.449 slash line with four homers against Hall of Famer Warren Spahn.

Paige kept Hall of Famer Ted Williams to a .222/.364/.222 slash line—with no home runs. And that was when Paige was in his 40s, far past his prime, but still an effective relief pitcher who inspired Yankee manager Casey Stengel to hector his hitters, “Get your runs now—Father Time is coming!”

Maybe the worriers are worried that a few sacred Show cows might turn out to have been steak? Boswell isolates a case: “Artie Wilson hit .428 in 1948 in the Negro Leagues. Does that make Wilson, not Ted Williams, the last .400 hitter? Teddy Ballgame would get a kick out of that; few men ever boosted and boasted about the quality of Negro League play more than Ted.”

Oho, some cynics might ask (and have asked), but how many of Josh Gibson’s home runs came off guys that would never have made the major leagues even if there was no segregation?

Elston Howard—from teenage Kansas City Monarch (1949) to Hall of Famer Yogi Berra’s eventual successor behind the Yankee plate.

OK, you asked for it. How many of Henry Aaron’s, Babe Ruth’s, Albert Pujols’s, Willie Mays’s, Ken Griffey, Jr.’s, Jim Thome’s, Frank Robinson’s, or Harmon Killebrew’s home runs came off guys who probably had no business being in the majors, too? No hitter faces only the Walter Johnsons, Lefty Groves, Satchel Paiges, Double Duty Radcliffes, Whitey Fords, Sandy Koufaxes, Bob Gibsons, Juan Marichals, Tom Seavers, or Randy Johnsons.

The only thing anyone should worry about is that it may take a good long while before finalising the complete stats is done for Gibson, Irvin, Paige, Radcliffe, Robinson, Wilson, Cool Papa Bell, Roy Campanella, Larry Doby, Sam Jethroe, Elston Howard, Buck Leonard, Don Newcombe, Buck O’Neil, and every Negro Leagues player who did or didn’t eventually make it to the Show after Robinson. If they can be done at last.

“The new Negro League numbers will have many such gaps, a byproduct of the discrimination that limited every aspect of those players’ lives, right down to the tiny detail that many of their games got no box scores in papers,” Boswell observes.

As more information is gathered, all those Negro League stats will change, just as, over my life, I have watched the win, strikeout and hit totals change for Walter Johnson and many other white Hall of Famers.

What the true baseball fan wants to know is: everything. All the data that is available. We will figure out, each in our own way, what to make of it, how to rank it and, in some cases, how to get our jaws off the floor.

We’ll also figure out that there was so much more to regret than we ever knew, when we first learned of the shameful decades of baseball’s segregation. But we’ll also figure out just how much richer the game we love is, now that those men are given officially what we always knew they were, from the stories, the legends, and the eventual actualities when they were finally allowed to join their white baseball brethren on the field:

They’re major leaguers, dammit!

Formalising what people of heart, soul, and mind always knew

Monte Irvin and Willie Mays—major leaguers as Giants and as a Newark Eagle (Irvin) and Birmingham Black Baron (Mays).

When Ted Williams was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1966, he kept it short, sweet, and shameless. One moment, Williams gave props to Willie Mays, who’d passed him on the all-time home run list days earlier: “[H]e’s pushing, and I say to him, ‘Go get ’em, Willie’.” Then, the Splinter hit a grand slam:

Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel. Not just to be as good as someone else, but to be better. This is the nature of man and the name of the game. I hope that one day Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson will be voted into the Hall of Fame as symbols of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren’t given the chance.

Gibson didn’t quite live long enough to receive his chance to play major league baseball; he died before Branch Rickey finally began the undoing of what should never have been done in the first place. But he was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a baseball immortal in 1972.

Paige did get his chance. Among other things, he kept Williams to a .222 hitting average and slugging percentage but a .364 on-base percentage, after joining the American League with the Cleveland Indians and in due course the St. Louis Browns—in his forties.

Unlike Gibson, Paige did live long enough to see himself inducted into the Hall of Fame, the first Negro Leagues player so inducted (in 1971) after a special committee was formed to determine, as best they could with what they had, whom among the Negro Leagues’ best belonged in Cooperstown.

Not long before then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn formed the committee, his predecessor William Eckert convened another committee to isolate which among the earliest professional leagues merited official major league status. Four leagues were given such formal recognition by that group: the American Association of 1882-91, the Union Association of 1884, the Players League of 1890, and the Federal League of 1914-1915.

The Negro Leagues weren’t even a topic then. Boy, are they a topic now, with commissioner Rob Manfred having pronounced that the seven professional Negro Leagues which played from 1920 to 1948 shall henceforth be known as major leagues. Did I say seven?

Manfred conferred formal major league status on the first Negro National League of 1920-31, the Eastern Coloured League of 1923-28, the American Negro League of 1929, the East-West League of 1932, the Negro Southern League of 1932, the second Negro National League of 1933-1948, and the Negro American League of 1937-1948.

That’s the formality. Any baseball fan with heart, soul, and mind coordinating properly didn’t need a formal proclamation to know the Negro Leagues were as good and sometimes better than the “official” major leagues. They knew down to their bone marrow that Ted Williams was dead right in his implication that the “official” Show’s pre-1947 segregation denied those leagues and a good number of their players their propers.

Why the 1948 cutoff? That was the year of the final Negro World Series, between the Homestead Grays of the NNL and the Birmingham Black Barons of the NAL. (The Grays flattened the Barons in five, despite the Barons’ sharp center fielder—a child prodigy named Willie Mays.) With Jackie Robinson having cracked the old, disgraceful major league segregation line a year earlier, and National and American League teams beginning to scout and sign Negro Leagues talent, however incrementally, the Negro Leagues’ days were numbered.

After that Series (the Grays won the last such major league-level championship in Washington until last year’s Nationals), the Negro National League folded, followed by the Grays themselves in 1951 after barnstorming proved financially untenable. With the two then-solely recognised major leagues continuing to bring black talent aboard, the Negro American League fell back to the equivalence of the highest minor league before folding in 1958.

Bob Kendrick, a man of impeccable intelligence and sensitivity who presides over the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, knows the difference between conferring historical merit and validating the Negro Leagues and its players as major leaguers. “[T]hey never looked to Major League Baseball to validate them,” Kendrick tells MLB.com writer (and author of the splendid A Fan’s Guide to Baseball Analytics) Anthony Castrovince.

But for fans and for historical sake, this is significant, it really is. So we are extremely pleased with this announcement. And for us, it does give additional credence to how significant the Negro Leagues were, both on and off the field.

A writer for The Athletic, Marcus Thompson II, sees and raises. “‘Oh, so now they’re good?’ was my initial reaction,” he writes in a forum convened by the journal to discuss the Manfred pronouncement.

Josh Gibson doesn’t need validation from Major League Baseball. Oscar Charleston doesn’t need validation. Pop Lloyd ain’t suddenly legit now because MLB basically decided to include him in the fold. It reeked of baseball’s arrogance. It wasn’t so much the inclusion of Negro League players, but the idea that somehow they are being officialized by this inclusion. This, obviously, should have been done a long time ago. But the pretentiousness of believing this to somehow be an elevation of those players, as if they’re being knighted posthumously, is insane and offensive . . . Satchel Paige was already a Major Leaguer by every other possible definition. Cool Papa Bell’s been official. His name is Cool Papa Bell.

Did we really need Rob Manfred to tell us Satchel Paige (left) and Jackie Robinson were major league level in the Negro Leagues?

Indeed. And, what do you know, just one prowl of social media delivered enough of the half-witticisms of those who think any thought of the Negro Leagues as “official” major leagues carries the whiff of political correctness. One such miscreant sticks uncomfortably in my mind: “[T]hey didn’t play against ball players like Bob Feller and Ted Williams sooooo… they didn’t play against major league talent.”

Well, now. I’d have loved the miscreant to explain what he thinks of the Show’s willful exclusion of non-white talent prior to 1947. (Fair disclosure: I zapped him by answering his foolish remark with the aforequoted Williams valedictory. As I write, he hasn’t offered an answer.) Do he and others of (I hate to use a four-letter word when ladies might be reading) like mind think such “major leaguers” as Robinson, Mays, Larry Doby, Roy Campanella, Henry Aaron, and Ernie Banks were just another bunch of minor leaguers before “organised baseball” deigned to invite them aboard?

Those of us who love the game and share the concurrent strain that its statistics are its life blood face a pretty pickle, too: How to finalise the true statistics of Negro Leagues competition. For one thing, it was known long enough that the Negro Leagues didn’t keep complete statistics for assorted and largely unpleasant reasons tied in large part to the unconscionable segregation of the so-called National Pastime.

The legends yielded by the Negro Leagues have been fun as legends but problematic as statistical analysis. Josh Gibson hitting eight hundred home runs plus in his baseball life is great fun as a legend, but how many did Gibson actually hit in Negro Leagues competition against how many did he actually hit on the barnstorms?

Castrovince observes that Negro Leagues statistics from leagues competition in 1920-1948 will be the ones brought to account, for a couple of very good reasons: Trying to develop the leagues before 1920 weren’t successful “and lacked a league structure.” Fans black, white, brown, and paisley alike may be disappointed with the net result because the barnstorm and exhibition stats won’t be included.

It won’t be simple, says another Athletic forum participant, Marc Carig. “[T]here are still games missing from the historical record,” he begins.

As of now, researchers have documented 73 percent of Negro League games contested in the 1920-1948 window of inclusion. That figure will keep climbing. More and more newspapers are getting digitized, making it easier to search for documentation. But it is still unlikely it will ever get to 100 percent. That can be a challenge. Now begins the work of figuring out how to incorporate that existing data into the official records. That’s the next step in the process. It’s not an easy one. But it’s worthwhile.

Forget about whether Gibson knocks Aaron and Barry Bonds out of the home run record books. He’ll probably still look like the great bombardier of his legend. And, since Aaron’s Negro Leagues play came after 1948, any home runs he hit before joining the Braves’ organisation won’t change his career home run total. Or the magnitude of his career and of a certain night in April 1974.

But Mays will see some changes. Let’s look. He had 73 plate appearances for the 1948 Black Barons, with sixteen hits including two doubles, twelve runs batted in, and twelve walks.He hit .262 with a .384 on-base percentage but a .295 slugging percentage with the ’48 Black Barons. His OBP won’t change, but his hitting average (sorry, the traditional batting average is incomplete and mistreats hits) will fall . . . one point, to .301. His slugging percentage will also fall . . . one point, to .556.

Another Athletic forum participant, Jason Jones, understands the concurrent late symbolism and undercurrent shame in Manfred’s pronouncement. “[I]f it took this announcement for you to believe Josh Gibson was one of the best to ever swing a bat, shame on you,” Jones says. “This is clearly long overdue. I wish those players were here to see baseball finally do the right thing.”

It shouldn’t have taken us that pronouncement, either, to believe Satchel Paige was one of the best ever to take the mound. (Casey Stengel would hector his Yankees when he saw Paige throwing in the bullpen, “Get your runs now—Father Time is coming!” That was when Paige was in his 40s and not exactly in his prime.)

Or, that Buck Leonard was one of the best ever to play first base.

Or, that Monte Irvin may have been the actual best of the Negro League talents to cross into the Show when he finally did, and that he might have given the Show another decade of his best before an ankle injury compromised him while with the Giants. Among others. (Irvin’s lifetime major league hitting average might jump to .304 when the records are adjusted.)

Said Manfred in a formal statement, “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. We are now grateful to count the players of the Negro Leagues where they belong: as Major Leaguers within the official historical record.”

Where they always belonged.

Now, if only Manfred and his minions would take things from there to send the Show on a real, substantial mission to rekindle deeper interest in baseball among black youth around the country, whether inner city, suburbia, or the country life. Black people have elevated the game as men and as players, coaches, managers, and executives, even if the number  among the last three of those remains terribly low.

Today’s young black aspirants deserve to know the game belongs to them, too. Numerous localised organisations carry that mission splendidly. It would give them a badly needed lift, and further honour the Negro Leagues legacy, if Manfred and his get off the schneid and onto the hunt. It’d mean as much and maybe more than how Jackie Robinson’s Hall of Fame plaque would look with the addition of his seasons with the Kansas City Monarchs.

Kim Ng, inside the box

Kim Ng (right) with Don Mattingly, when Mattingly managed the Dodgers and Ng was their assistant GM. Ng is now, among other things, Mattingly’s new boss in Miami.

Whatever you do otherwise, please don’t call Kim Ng’s hiring as the Miami Marlins’ new general manager “outside the box” thinking. It’s an insult to hers and the Marlins’ intelligence, and it should be to anyone else’s, too.

Yes, Ng is the first woman and the first Asian-American to hold such a job. But yes, she also has three decades worth of experience in baseball operations which only began when she joined the White Sox as a front office intern and worked her way to becoming the team’s assistant director for baseball operations.

The Marlins hired her away from baseball government itself, where Ng just finished her ninth year as the Show’s senior vice president for baseball operations, focused specifically on tightening up and administering MLB’s international baseball reach and operations, working with MLB front offices and international organisations alike, and enforcing international signing rules.

In between her term with the White Sox and in the Show’s government, Ng became the youngest assistant GM (at 29) ever when she took that job with the Yankees, then joined the Dodgers as an assistant GM, her performances of which jobs plus her performance in MLB’s organisation itself put her on several team radars as a GM to be.

Outside the box? Ng is about as inside the baseball box as you can get with her experience and reputation. The only thing outside the box about her is that, well, she’s a lady, and she’s the daughter of a Chinese American father who worked as a financial analyst and a Chinese Thai mother who worked as a banker.

She’s Indianapolis born but New York raised, and she grew up among other things playing stickball on the Queens streets before going to the University of Chicago, earning a degree in public policy, and, oh yes, winning a Most Valuable Player award as an infielder on the university’s softball team.

“[I]t is the honor of my career to lead the Miami Marlins as their next General Manager,” Ng says in a formal statement. “We are building for the long term in South Florida, developing a forward-thinking, collaborative, creative baseball operation made up of incredibly talented and dedicated staff who have, over the last few years, laid a great foundation for success.”

When was the last time you heard terms like “forward-thinking” or “collaborative” or “creative baseball operation” applied to the Marlins? OK, so that might be outside-the-box—the Marlins’ box, that is.

“This challenge is one I don’t take lightly,” she continues. “When I got into this business, it seemed unlikely a woman would lead a Major League team, but I am dogged in the pursuit of my goals. My goal is now to bring championship baseball to Miami. I am both humbled and eager to continue building the winning culture our fans expect and deserve.”

It’s a recent enough expectation, of course, but one that doesn’t lend itself to gags now that manager Don Mattingly was named the National League’s Manager of the Year for shepherding the Fish to a second-place irregular season finish in the National League East and as far as a division series in the postseason.

Ng has knocked on history’s door more than a few times in her career. With the White Sox, she was the first woman and youngest human to present and win a salary arbitration case, for pitcher Alex Fernandez. When the Yankees hired her as an assistant GM, Ng became one of only four women ever to hold the position, joining Elaine Weddington Steward and Raquel Ferreira of the Red Sox and fellow Yankee Jean Afterman.

She started showing up on team radars as GM material in 2005, when the Dodgers interviewed her. They handed the GM job to Ned Colletti, but Colletti almost immediately kept her as an assistant GM. She’s since been interviewed for such jobs by the Angels, the Giants, the Mariners, and the Padres.

When she left the Dodgers to take her MLB job, there were those pondering aloud whether Ng had a chance to become the first woman ever named as baseball commissioner. So much for that idea, so far. She’s content to have gotten where she is now. But would you really object to the idea down the road apiece?

Ng won’t exactly be wading into virgin territory with the Marlins. Chief executive officer Derek Jeter was en route his Hall of Fame career as a Yankee shortstop while Ng worked in their front office. Mattingly’s playing career ended a few years before the Yankees made her an assistant GM, but he was a coach for them while she was there. And, he managed the Dodgers while Ng was still their assistant GM.

Jeter’s own formal statement cites Ng’s “wealth of knowledge and championship-level experience.” The Yankees won three straight World Series while she worked there; the Dodgers challenged for or won a few NL Wests while she worked in their front-office brain pool. As a front-office executive Ng has gone to eight postseasons total.

“Her leadership of our baseball operations team will play a major role on our path toward sustained success,” Jeter continues. “Additionally, her extensive work in expanding youth baseball and softball initiatives will enhance our efforts to grow the game among our local youth as we continue to make a positive impact on the South Florida community.”

The lady is a champ who just might deliver when it comes to making the Marlins champs. Just don’t accuse the Fish of going that far outside the box by hiring her in the first place.