MLB Integration Final Phase Long Overdue

Pat Pickens

The decision from Major League Baseball to integrate Negro League stats into its official record book was done to shine light on the accomplishments from players whose careers have been left in the dark for too long.

Though unfortunate that all-time greats like Josh Gibson, James “Cool Papa” Bell and Buck Leonard didn’t live to see those accolades acknowledged, they will remain in the conversation as the greatest players in MLB history — a well-overdue honor for players who were only left out of the majors by the color of their skin.

Stats like Gibson’s .373 career batting average may jump off the page. But they only tell part of the story, like how Gibson and Leonard batted back to back in the Homestead Grays lineup or how they accomplished those eye-popping figures in spite of hellacious travel schedules.

MLB has breathed new life into these stories with the call to recognize Negro League stats. But those tales are also alive at historic Hinchliffe Stadium, the former home of the Newark Eagles, New York Black Yankees and New York Cubans, and the Charles J. Muth Museum, which chronicles the history of Negro League baseball in the northeast United States in Paterson, New Jersey.

Hinchliffe, like the stats and stories of the Negro League, has an incredible legacy but was in danger of falling into the abyss after it closed in 1997. The historic venue, which hosted the 1933 Negro League World Series as well as hundreds of Negro League games over almost two decades upon its opening in 1932, was deserted until restoration efforts began in 2021.

Yet, the legendary ballpark, which sits on Larry Doby Lane as a nod to the Paterson native who broke the American League’s color barrier, has been rejuvenated and is a stunning place to watch a game. Hinchcliffe sits at the top of Paterson’s Great Falls and is the only stadium in the U.S. to sit on the grounds of a national park.

Plus, with its revival, Hinchliffe can help bridge the gap between those old-time legacies and the present.

Just as major-league players could be awed by playing on the same fields as Ted Williams in Boston or Ernie Banks in Chicago, those who patrol the outfields at Hinchcliffe can say they stood on the same hallowed grounds as Gibson, Bell, Leonard, Doby and many others who pulled through Paterson in the bygone era.

Hinchliffe is once again in a prime position to do what it did for decades: host sporting events. It serves as the primary home for the New Jersey Jackals while hosting soccer games and much more.

Those who are interested in taking in those events can do so. But for the many others who may come to Paterson on an educational field trip, the Muth Museum — named for the Paterson native and Montclair State graduate who poured $5 million into the ballpark — will provide the context about how Paterson continues to serve as an unheralded piece of baseball history.

Between the integrated stats and the upcoming MLB game between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, the history of the Negro Leagues has been an ongoing piece of the baseball conversation in 2024.

But if you can’t make it to Rickwood, or the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Hinchliffe is a scenic and equally historic baseball pilgrimage.

Pat Pickens
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Pat Pickens