Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
March 22, 2012
BASEBALL: Negro League Stats Are Here!
Baseball-Reference.com has at long last started publishing Negro League stats. It's a glorious day. They're a work in progress, a lot less complete than those at other sites, but I assume that's due to a superior commitment to accuracy.
Take a look at Satchel Paige's stats. There are more detailed numbers for Paige in Larry Tye's biography, which I highly recommend both for that reason and because Paige is a helluva story and a compelling character who both symbolizes and transcends his era. Anyway, look at Paige's strikeout rates, from 11.5 K/9 in 1927 to 10.2 K/9 in 1945. Even given the sometimes uneven levels of competition and the fact that some of these are small samples of his innings, it's just extraordinary to have those strikeout rates under the playing conditions of that era, with little or no night baseball and players still - just as in the white Major Leagues - taking a more contact-based approach than they would from the mid-1950s on. Indeed, even into his mid-40s, Paige would have some of the highest strikeout rates in the American League of his time. I mean some time to do a longer look at Paige's career through the lens of the various numbers; there's so much to work with even given the difficulty of putting it all quite into context. Paige was a rotation starter from age 20 in 1927 in Birmingham, yet by 1956-58, at age 49-51, he was still a swing man for the AAA Miami Marlins. Paige was 11-4 with a 1.86 ERA in 1956, posted a 2.42 ERA and a 6.91 K/BB ratio in 1957; over the three seasons in Miami, in 33 starts and 72 relief appearances, Paige threw 340 innings, went 31-22 with a 2.41 ERA and averaged 0.71 HR, 1.43 BB and 5.16 K/9. Paige made his last professional appearance in A ball in 1966 as a teammate of Johnny Bench.
Anyway, I'll be excited to see the site build out more stats - most of us have a pretty good idea of what Paige's and Josh Gibson's talents look like when translated into something like a real stat line, but many other Negro League stars are fuzzier in popular memory (Oscar Charleston and John Henry Lloyd in particular are guys who deserve to be more vividly remembered - there's every reason to think that Charleston was on the same level with the other all time great CF talents like Mays, Mantle, Cobb, Speaker, and DiMaggio).