ST. LOUIS -- Major League Baseball’s decision to give Major League status to seven professional Negro Leagues that operated between 1920-48 means that approximately 3,400 players are now officially considered Major Leaguers, and their stats and records are now part of Major League history.
The stars who played in St. Louis will be among them.
St. Louis has a rich history of Negro Leagues baseball. Hall of Famers Cool Papa Bell, Mule Suttles and Willie Wells played for the St. Louis Stars, which won three championships as part of the Negro National League from 1922-31. The team played at Stars Park, at the corner of Market Street and Compton Avenue. While the park is no longer around, the field is still there, home to Harris-Stowe State University’s baseball team. The Cardinals donated more than $1 million this year to renovate the field and add a softball field, further preserving the history of the Stars.
In November, researchers at Seamheads.com found two more home runs to add to Suttles’ record in 1926, bringing his total to 32 -- a new single-season record for home runs by a player against Negro Leagues opponents. They also found that Bell -- who has a statue outside of Busch Stadium -- stole 36 bases that season, which is the second-highest single-season Negro Leagues total they’ve recorded in their database. The highest is Bell’s 49 in 1929.
These numbers will now be folded into MLB’s leaderboards. Bell’s 345 career stolen bases, as confirmed by Seamheads, will likely stand in between Paul Radford and Devon White’s 346 and Ryne Sandberg’s 344 -- just a few spots down from former Cardinals outfielder Willie McGee’s 352. Suttles’ 193 career home runs will also have its place on the list, as will Wells’ 172.
The early 1900s also saw the St. Louis Giants play in the city, and the team became part of the Negro National League in 1920. In 1921, the year before they merged with the Stars, the Giants acquired Hall of Famer Oscar Charleston from Indianapolis. Charleston had a historic season; according to the Seamheads database, the outfielder hit .423/.499/.743 with a 1.241 OPS, 17 home runs and 101 RBIs. Charleston didn’t play for the Stars when most of the Giants roster moved to Stars Park, but his incredible season in St. Louis shouldn’t be forgotten.
As MLB.com’s Mike Petriello writes, there are so many other ways the Negro Leagues stats might change baseball’s leaderboards. MLB and the Elias Sports Bureau -- MLB’s official statistician -- have begun a review process to determine the full scope of the designation’s effect on records and statistics, with historians and other experts consulted in the process.
When the Stars disbanded in 1931, it wasn’t the end of Black baseball in St. Louis. A variation of the Stars joined the Negro American League -- one of the leagues MLB is adding to the record books -- in 1937. The Tandy League was a semi-professional league and then a high-level amateur league, and it was where St. Louis native Elston Howard got his start before he played for the Kansas City Monarchs. He later became the Yankees’ first Black player and American League MVP Award winner.
The Cardinals have committed to keeping the Negro Leagues memory alive in St. Louis with the Stars Park renovation. Now the historic Black players that made St. Louis home will rightfully have their place on baseball’s leaderboards.
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