Picking an All-Star lineup of Negro Leaguers with official MLB stats

June 8th, 2024

Negro Leagues statistics have been incorporated into the official MLB record books, providing long-overdue recognition to some of the greatest players in baseball history and giving a new look to some of MLB's single-season and all-time leaderboards.

MLB announced on May 29 that it was absorbing the available Negro Leagues numbers into the official historical record, with the assistance of Seamheads, Retrosheet, the Elias Sports Bureau (MLB’s official statistician) and the independent Negro League Statistical Review Committee. The stats come from the seven Negro Leagues that operated from 1920-48 and were recognized as Major Leagues in 2020.

Based on the newly added data, we’ve assembled a team of nine Negro Leagues stars with the most significant contributions from the time period that has been added to the official record.

Often called the “Black Babe Ruth” for his prodigious power, Gibson now sits above the Great Bambino as the all-time OPS leader in Major League history at 1.177, slightly ahead of Ruth’s 1.164 mark. Gibson also ranks first in batting average at .372 -- including a single-season-record .466 in 1943 -- and slugging percentage at .718 while placing third in on-base percentage (.459) behind Ted Williams and Ruth.

While Gibson’s Hall of Fame plaque estimates that he hit “almost 800 home runs” during his career in league and independent play, he goes into the official record books with 174 round-trippers, incredibly averaging one homer for every 12.96 at-bats.

First base: Buck Leonard
Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, who started out in the Negro Leagues before playing for the Giants and Cubs post-integration, once said that “trying to sneak a fastball past Leonard was like trying to sneak a sunrise past a rooster.” Leonard's official stats suggest that Irvin wasn't exaggerating in the slightest.

Along with Mule Suttles (more on him later), Leonard is one of two Negro Leagues first basemen who have been entered into the record books with a career OPS north of 1.000. Leonard ranks seventh in that category and also owns top-10 marks in batting average (tied for eighth at .345) and on-base percentage (fifth at .452).

Second base: George Scales
Scales is the only player on our team still awaiting entry into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but he is expected to be up for consideration again when the Classic Baseball Era Committee convenes in December 2024. The infielder is now 14th all time with a .427 on-base percentage and also ranks among MLB’s top 30 in OPS (.945) and the top 50 in batting average (.322).

Shortstop: Willie Wells
A five-tool star who is considered to be one of the greatest shortstops in baseball history, Wells now ranks first at the position with a .943 OPS. He produced a .328 batting average, 143 homers and 161 steals in 1,065 games.

Third base: Jud Wilson
Nicknamed “Boojum” for the sound his hits would make when they struck the outfield walls, Wilson is one of a select group of players to hit .400 or better in multiple qualified seasons. The hard-hitting third baseman posted a .422 average in 1927 and a .404 average in 1929 en route to a lifetime .350 mark, the fifth-highest in MLB history.

Outfield: Turkey Stearnes
Although he had an unorthodox batting stance and unusual running style -- which earned him his avian-themed moniker -- Stearnes (given name Norman) could do it all on a baseball field. The outfielder goes into the record books with a lifetime .348/.417/.616 slash, 188 homers and 129 stolen bases. Stearnes now ranks sixth all time in batting average and slugging and ninth in OPS (1.033).

Outfield: Oscar Charleston
How can we sum up Charleston’s greatness? Leave it to Hall of Famer Buck O’Neil. “Oscar Charleston was Willie Mays before we knew who Willie Mays was,” O’Neil once said. Charleston now has a spot alongside Mays in the MLB record books, producing the third-best batting average (.363), the sixth-best OBP (.448), the seventh-best SLG (.613) and the fifth-best OPS (1.061), along with 139 homers and 218 steals, in 893 games.

Outfield: Mule Suttles
Suttles is often overlooked among the top Negro Leagues stars, but his official stats show just how impressive he was at the plate. Though he was known more as a first baseman, he also played the outfield during his career. With Leonard at first base, Suttles gets our third outfield spot, having hit .339 with 185 homers, a .621 SLG (fifth all time) and a 1.031 OPS (10th all time) over 977 games.

Pitcher: Satchel Paige
Paige was perhaps the biggest star in Black baseball before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, and the MLB record books now provide a more accurate portrayal of the hard-throwing right-hander’s dominance.

Previously, we only had an official record of Paige’s post-integration numbers over 476 innings -- all after the age of 41 -- in the American League. However, his numbers from his prime years in the Negro Leagues have been folded in, dropping his lifetime ERA to 2.74 -- including a 1.01 ERA in 1944, the third-lowest mark in a single season -- with 1,484 strikeouts and a 1.11 WHIP over 1,725 innings.