Josh Gibson, not Ty Cobb, is the all-time hitting leader when MLB changes its records

It’s been an article of faith for nearly a century, as if cut into a tablet by Abner Doubleday: The leading hitter in major league history is Tyrus Raymond Cobb.

But history is made. Actually, we know that Doubleday didn’t invent baseball. As of Wednesday, Josh Gibson will replace the trophy as the leading hitter in the game’s official records. At .372, Gibson’s career batting average surpasses Cobb’s by six points.

Major League Baseball will announce the results of a newly consolidated statistical database Wednesday that includes records from the Negro Leagues active from 1920 to 1948. Data was formally adopted three and a half years after MLB officially recognized the Negro Leagues. Major Leagues in December 2020

“I don’t know that people will be upset, but they might be embarrassed that some of the Negro Leagues stars are now on the leaderboards for careers and seasons,” said longtime Negro Leagues researcher and author Larry Lester. group.

“The diehards may disagree with the statistics, but that’s okay. I welcome conversations at the bar or the barbershop or the pool hall. That’s why we do what we do.

Career batting average leaders

player batting average

Josh Gibson


Die Cope


Oscar Charleston


Rogers Hornsby


Jude Wilson


Turkey Stearns


Ed Delahanty


Buck Leonard


Driss is the speaker


Ted Williams


John Thorne, MLB’s official historian, had the perfect time to release the team’s findings, with the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants playing a game next month at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala. Thorne estimates that 75 percent of all Negro League box scores are documented, and MLB will update the records as more are discovered.

To some extent, the Negro Leagues numbers are always in the works. Barnstorming games, an essential source of funding for Negro League teams, are not included in the statistics.

“For example, the Kansas City Kings travel to Chicago, and when they get to town, they play as many games as possible,” Lester said. “So instead of a three-game series, they’re playing five — on the way there, they might stop in Moline and pick up some changes to the local team.

“Based on the players I interviewed, they say they played almost every day, sometimes two or three games a day, and never played in one place. So they may have played 150 to 175 games a year, but only 60 to 80 games counted in the league standings.

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Those shorter official seasons, MLB noted in a release announcing the change, will naturally lead to some “leaderboard peaks.” But Thorne said the league validated the 60-game season during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a recent precedent, it made sense to validate Negro League seasons as well.

“The irregularity of their league schedules, established in the spring but improved over the summer, was not of their making but rather born of MLB’s waiver procedures,” MLB said in a release.

The team used the same statistical minimum for Negro League leaders as the American and National Leagues: 3.1 plate appearances or 1 inning pitched per scheduled team game. Scheduled games ranged from 26 (Negro American League, 1942) to 91 (Negro National League I, 1927).

The new record gave Gibson not only the career batting average record, but a single-season mark of .466 in 1943, followed by Chino Smith’s .451 in 1929. The previous record was .440 by Hugh Duffy for Boston in 1894. Third.

Single-Season Batting Average

Name AVG (Season)

Josh Gibson

.466 (1943)

Chino Smith

.451 (1929)

Hugh Duffy

.440 (1894)

Oscar Charleston

.434 (1921)

Charlie Blackwell

.432 (1921)

Rose Barnes

.429 (1876)

Oscar Charleston

.427 (1925)

Donkey shuttles

.425 (1926)

Willie Keeler

.424 (1897)

Rogers Hornsby

.424 (1924)

However, at Baseball-Reference, Gibson’s .466 isn’t even listed as thick on his career ledger. Another hitter in Gibson’s league, Detelo Vargas of New York Cuba, batted .471, which the website considers a career record.

Vargas made 136 plate appearances that season. But MLB considers that league’s schedule to be 47 games long, so Vargas falls short of MLB’s minimum of 146 plate appearances required to be recognized as the league leader.

On Baseball-Reference’s single-season batting average leaderboard, Vargas and Gibson are followed by another .466 hitter — Lyman Bostock Sr., father of the Angels’ star outfielder and twins who were murdered after a game in Chicago in 1978.

Bostock Sr. ‘s .466 mark was recognized as the best average by Baseball-Reference in 1941 (which is why Ted Williams’ legendary .406 for the Red Sox in 1941 was not listed in italics on the site). But MLB didn’t recognize Bostock Sr.’s average on the new single-season leaderboard because he did it in just 84 plate appearances.

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“Here’s the difference,” said Sean Forman, president of SportsReference LLC. “Throughout Negro League statistics, there are games that are missing; we may have the score of the game played, but we don’t have the box score for it.

“So I look at Bostock in 1941. We have 23 games recorded for him, and we have the Birmingham Black Barons (Bostock’s team) with 45 games that season. So Bostock with 84 plate appearances is 45 times under the 3.1 (threshold). The thing is, He’s over 3.1 per game for those games where we have box scores and we use that number as a minimum.

“We have some reasons for making the choices we made, and MLB has some reasons for making the choices they made.”

Ty Cobb’s career average has long been MLB’s highest mark. (Photo reproduction by Deep Graphics / Getty Images)

Baseball-Reference uses Negro Leagues statistics from the Seamheads database, which began in 2000 with a grant from MLB, Lester said. Researchers Gary Ashwill and Kevin Johnson exhaustively searched for verified box scores, and while both were on the team, it took years. MLB and Seamheads must agree on processing the data.

“There were tough negotiations,” Thorne admitted. “And part of the difficulty isn’t financial — that’s almost one sided and agreed — it’s how statistics will be used and what level of involvement Seamheads might continue to have. It took a long time to come to agreement, but once we agreed, we brought in Retrosheet as an additional statistical partner. And, of course, Elias. Already as our official statisticians, we were responsible for auditing the data.

Career OPS

Name OPS

Josh Gibson


Babe Ruth


Ted Williams


Lou Gehrig


Oscar Charleston


Barry Bonds


Buck Leonard


Jimmy Fox


Turkey Stearns


Donkey shuttles


It took more than two years for those companies to merge. But once they did, the momentum seemed to pick up. Thorne said the committee should rely on box scores, not just game accounts. Gibson reportedly hit four homers in one game in 1938, but with no box score, there’s no way to work out all the numbers.

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“When a man hits a home run, he hits somebody with it,” Thorne said. “Therefore, we cannot make exceptions for anecdotal evidence because it lacks the double-entry accounting required to provide a balance for the entire historical record of Major League Baseball.”

Industrial era

Name Era

Ed Walsh


Audi Jose


Mordecai Brown


John Ward


Christy Mathewson


Rube Waddell


Walter Johnson


Dave Brown


Tommy Bond


Will White


Likewise, Thorne said, a sports account from 1948 says Willie Mays homered in Birmingham. But without a box score to verify it, Mays’ career home run total stands at 660 — all with the Giants and Mets.

The records are not complete, but they are accurate for what they cover as far as MLB is concerned. Hard research demands it.

“It takes me roughly 30 minutes to enter a box score — line by line, number by number, and then I run data integrity checks at the end of the season,” Lester said. “I have about 16,000 box marks in my database, so it took years to complete the task.

“But it’s fun. We welcome the critics, the doubters. But we know the numbers are solid.

Decades ago, Lester said, people told him the numbers simply weren’t there — “African-Americans were apathetic about making baseball history,” he said. He prides himself on elevating that trope to find numbers that confirm the accomplishments of Oscar Charleston, Bullet Rogan, Turkey Stearns and others.

Redacted records – even officially certified ones – won’t sway everyone. Lester understood. And keeping all the meticulous records, the division can never resolve the what-ifs.

“Critics say, ‘Well, (Gibson) only played against other black teams,'” Lester said. “Well, Babe Ruth never hit a home run off a black pitcher, and Josh Gibson never hit a home run off a white pitcher. So my point is that the amount of melanin, or lack thereof, doesn’t indicate the greatness of a ballplayer.

(Top photo of the Gibson statue in Washington, DC: Simon Prouty/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

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