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MLB Announces It Will Recognize Negro Leagues As Major League

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It only took a hundred years. Major League Baseball announced today it will recognize the Negro Leagues as major league, correcting what the organization calls a longtime oversight in the game's history. The move comes on the centennial of the founding of the Negro Leagues back in 1920. From then to 1948, Black players were not allowed to play with white players in the American or National Leagues. Author and historian Larry Lester is the co-founder of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. He has been advocating for this moment for years.

Larry Lester, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

LARRY LESTER: Thank you for having me, Mary Louise Kelly.

KELLY: We are glad to have you with us. And as I note, this has been a long time coming. Would you tell me how you heard the news and what went through your head?

LESTER: Oh, I have a Negro League Google alert and came across my desk this morning and just had tears of joy that after 50-plus years of compiling statistics, they are now being recognized. And so it was a watershed moment for me.

KELLY: Oh, I can imagine.

LESTER: Yes.

KELLY: I can imagine that feeling of seeing that alert come across your phone and think, did I read that right? Is this real, finally?

LESTER: (Laughter) Yes, exactly.

KELLY: We mentioned all the years that you have been working on this. This has been your mission - has been going through the archives, trying to dig through and compile all the statistics because the statistics for the Negro League have - were incomplete or were lost. Is that right?

LESTER: Well, yes. Before there was an Internet, I would make daily trips to the library and read microfilmed newspapers, particularly the Black newspapers across the country, and make copies of the articles, editorials and the box scores and just compile them and put it - the data into a computer database that I created - interviewed - I don't know how many - 80, 90 ballplayers, some several times. And they always felt like they were the equal of their major league counterparts, and the statistics prove that to be true.

KELLY: Well, and all these statistics that you have compiled are about to come in very handy because one of the implications of this announcement is that this is going to impact long-standing baseball records, right?

LESTER: Yes. Some of the fellas on the leaderboard will change (laughter). But basically, the beauty of everything is the all-time leaders are no longer - be white males. Negro Leaguers will be included in the mix, and some of them will be all-time greats as we've - as I have always known them to be. So today was an incredible moment.

KELLY: Is it also bittersweet or just a little bitter if you're being perfectly honest? I in the intro said this is the organization the MLB saying they're correcting a longtime oversight. They're correcting racism is what they're correcting here.

LESTER: Yes, those terms are exactly right. I was bittersweet this morning when I first heard, and my initial impression was, why did it take so long? But I think the country is ready for a change. I think the Black Lives Matter movement is indirectly responsible for increasing social awareness. And now we have this social reparation with the Negro Leagues.

KELLY: I saw a quote from you along those lines - Black baseball also matters.

LESTER: Yes (laughter), most definitely. You cannot have white baseball without Black baseball. That's like one hand clapping.

KELLY: Is there a particular player or two that you especially wish could've seen this day?

LESTER: Oh, wow. There's so many.

KELLY: Yeah.

LESTER: I wish Satchel Paige, of course - probably one of the greatest pitchers ever. I wish Josh Gibson could be here - hit more home runs out of Griffin (ph) Stadium than the entire American League did in 1943. That's how powerful this man was. Cool Papa Bell, who I spent many afternoons in his living room interviewing him - one of the fastest men to ever play the game. He was so enamored that somebody actually wanted to talk to him (laughter). It's been a good experience. As a Black man growing up, I had - probably had 80 Black fathers, so there's no way I could go wrong.

KELLY: Well, Larry Lester, thank you.

LESTER: Thank you very much.

KELLY: That's Larry Lester, co-founder of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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