Robert Peterson, a pioneer author and researcher on Negro League baseball, once wrote that, “Tracing the course of the organized Negro leagues is rather like trying to follow a single black strand through a ton of spaghetti. The footing is infirm, and the strand has a tendency to break off in one’s hand and slither back into the amorphous mass.” For those of us that spent significant time researching the Negro Leagues, it always poses numerous challenges. There were portions of time where certain teams didn’t maintain statistics; it wasn’t until the mid-1940s that the leagues considered contracting with the Elias Bureau for official stats record keeping. African American newspapers are a valuable source, but there were many times that teams didn’t provide the information to reporters. I’ve faced difficulty just researching the social aspect of the game; the lives of the players and fans. For people who research statistics, I imagine that the journey to acquire information can only be more complex.
That’s why it is an amazing accomplishment that there is now a searchable database of Negro League statistics on Baseball Reference. A group of historians and researchers worked tirelessly to compile this information and make it available to the world. You could pull up the 1932 Pittsburgh Crawfords for example, and look at one of the greatest rosters in Negro League history – a team that included Hall of Fame players like Oscar Charleston, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Judy Johnson. You could also look at the stats of the 1945 Cleveland Buckeyes; the only Negro League team in Cleveland history to win the World Series. This was a roster that included future major league Rookie of the Year Sam Jethroe, who in 1950 became the oldest ROY at age 33 with the Boston Braves.
Another reason that this may be of interest to folks in and around the Cleveland area – this summer the largest conference on Negro League baseball will be in Cleveland from July 19-22. The Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference (named for researcher Jerry Malloy) brings former players and some of the country’s top researchers together to hear research presentations and player panel discussions. This also coincidentally coincides with the renovations of League Park; the field was home to the Cleveland Buckeyes (1942-1950), as well as the Cleveland Red Sox (1934) and the Cleveland Bears (1939-1940 – League Park in 1940 only).
As the conference approaches, I plan to feature the 11 professional Cleveland Negro League teams on IPL. It’s really a fascinating history; as I discuss the rise and fall of the various teams, you can now look at corresponding statistics for those players on Baseball Reference.