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Ahead of All-Star Game in Denver, MLB recognizes historic Negro Leagues' best players

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Posted at 11:49 AM, Jul 13, 2021

DENVER -- As Denver welcomes baseball fans from around the world for the MLB All-Star Game, the league is also working to recognize some lesser known All-Stars from the earliest days of the sport.

Recently, Major League Baseball announced the organization elevated Negro Leagues statistics to major league status.

Bob Kendrick, the President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., said this move has heightened interest in the Negro Leagues story.

“This gives us an opportunity and an even greater platform to help people learn about all these legendary stars who overcame tremendous social adversity just to play the game that they loved,” Kendrick said.

Kendrick said those stars include Leroy Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston, and Martin DiHigo.

“Martin DiHigo who they nicknamed 'El Maestro,' the Master… He is the only baseball player in the history of our sport to be enshrined into five different country's baseball halls of fame,” Kendrick said. “Most baseball fans have never heard that name.”

Kendrick said this move by MLB highlights the achievements of these players despite the discrimination they faced.

“We’re not looking for Major League Baseball to validate us, we already understand the magnitude of this league. But it’s important to remember. They didn’t ask to play in the Negro Leagues, they were forced to play in the Negro Leagues,” Kendrick said.

Kendrick said once Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, Negro Leagues players who entered the majors would change the sport forever.

“Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, the late great Henry Aaron. These are some of the biggest names in baseball history who’s roots began in the Negro Leagues,” said Kendrick. “There is not a question in my mind had the doors opened before 1947, the record books would be entirely different.”

Jason Hanson, the History Colorado Chief Creative Officer, said historians are already starting to see changes to records.

“We realized that some of the things that we thought we knew for a long long time, we had to reassess,” Hanson said. “For example, Ted Williams was the last person to hit 400, turns out no, he wasn’t. Josh Gibson, it looks like, hit well above 400 a few years after Williams did.”

Gibson said Negro Leagues stats will likely continue to change professional baseball.

“We talk about the Babe Ruth’s and the Ted Williams', and we should also be talking about the Satchel Paige's, and the Josh Gibson’s,” Hanson said.

Hanson and Kendrick said Black teams like the Denver White Elephants should also be remembered.

“They were a semi-pro baseball team, but let me tell you, there was nothing semi about this team. They fielded some tremendous talent. And while they weren’t a part of the organized professional Negro Leagues, they were beating everybody, including some Negro Leagues teams when they faced them head-to-head,” Kendrick said. “Denver, in particular, has always seen great Black baseball even though it didn’t have an organized Negro Leagues team per se, the city was host to the Denver Post tournament.”

Kendrick said in 1934, the Denver Post invited the Kansas City Monarchs, a Negro Leagues team, to play in the tournament and this was the first-time baseball was integrated at a professional level.

Kendrick said the Negro Leagues story and the stars that played is the ultimate American story.

“While America was trying to prevent them from sharing in the joys of the national past time, it was indeed the American spirit that allowed them to persevere,” Kendrick said.

Kendrick said even though the recognition is coming decades later, the Negro Leagues All-Stars are now shining brightly as new generations discover their major triumphs.