(Reuters) - Major League Baseball (MLB) is giving the Negro Leagues of 1920 through 1948 to "Major League" status, MLB said on Wednesday, calling the move a correction of "a longtime oversight."
The records and statistics of the Negro Leagues, in which Black players competed after being forced out of MLB competition due to racism and segregation laws, will be incorporated into MLB history, a century after the formal introduction of the Leagues.
"In the minds of baseball fans worldwide, this serves as historical validation for those who had been shunned from the Major Leagues and had the foresight and courage to create their own league that helped change the game and our country too," Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, said in a statement.
MLB said it was working with the Elias Sports Bureau to review the move's "ramifications on statistics and records."
"Having been around so many of the Negro League players, they never looked to (Major League Baseball) to validate them," said Kendrick. "But for fans and for historical sake, this is significant, it really is."
Roughly 3,400 players competed in the seven Negro Leagues from 1920 through 1948 but were denied equal recognition to their white counterparts long after Jackie Robinson became the first Black player on a Major League roster in the modern era in 1945.
"The perceived deficiencies of the Negro Leagues’ structure and scheduling were born of MLB's exclusionary practices, and denying them Major League status has been a double penalty, much like that exacted of Hall of Fame candidates prior to Satchel Paige's induction in 1971," said John Thorn, MLB's official historian.
Paige, a five-time All-Star in his roughly two decades in the Negro Leagues, was the first man elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Negro League Committee in 1971.
"All of us who love baseball have long known that the Negro Leagues produced many of our game’s best players, innovations and triumphs against a backdrop of injustice," said MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred.
"We are now grateful to count the players of the Negro Leagues where they belong: as Major Leaguers within the official historical record."
The move comes amid a national reckoning over race in the United States and within professional sports, days after the Cleveland MLB team announced it would drop its "Indians" name after 105 years and decades of criticism that it was offensive to Native Americans.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Ed Osmond and Toby Davis)