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MLB recognizes Negro Leagues' stats; Phoenix family says, 'It's about time'

Posted at 7:52 PM, Dec 16, 2020

Major League Baseball has reclassified the Negro Leagues as a major league and will count the statistics and records of its 3,400 players as part of its history.

The league said it was "correcting a longtime oversight in the game's history" by elevating the Negro Leagues on the centennial of its founding.

The Negro Leagues consisted of seven leagues that existed from 1920-48. Those leagues were excluded in 1969 when the Special Committee on Baseball Records identified six official "major leagues" dating to 1876.

The change means Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige could add nearly 150 victories to his total.

It also means that Phoenix native, Ford Smith, will have his stats added to the majors.

"He was the only black player out of Arizona to play in the Negro Leagues," said Jackie Garner, Smith's daughter. "He thought of himself as a baseball player. And he was."

Smith was also a World War II veteran. He played across the United States with the Negro Leagues and even had a stint in the minor league with the then New York Giants. He also played in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Canada.

He never got to play a game in the MLB at the time. By the time Jackie Robinson had broken the barrier, Smith was past the prime of his career.

"I know that everybody felt the inequity," said Garner. "And there was a little rule that you were taught - if you were going to do something that [White people] do, you have to do it twice as well."

"Do you think he did?" "Oh yeah!"

Smith started Game 2 of the 1946 Negro World Series and left the game with a lead for the closer Satchel Paige.

Garner watched him take the mound when she was a child. "He was revered," she said.

Eighty years after he struck fear into opposing batters, Ford's balls and strikes will be counted as MLB pitches.

"I feel very proud. That’s part of my family’s history," said Garner.

"I think it’s just long overdue. And they are finally getting acknowledge the way they’re supposed to be," said grandson John Ford Smith III.

The move to incorporate the stats of the segregated stars is considered, by many, long overdue.

"Players will be elevated in a way that they have not been in the past," said Ken Shropshire, CEO of the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University.

"It was a professional league of players who were just as good as major leaguers, if not better," said baseball researcher and Negro Leagues historian, Cam Perron.

Most of the men who took the segregated fields have since passed away.

Perron though, befriended many over the years. "It’s definitely hard to be here and not have them see this," said Perron.

After he retired, Smith went on to work for the Phoenix Union School District and was the Director of the Arizona State Civil Rights Commission.

"He passed on a belief that things will change," said his daughter.

"What do you think he would say about today’s announcement?"

"Oh my gosh, he would be thrilled. And the next thing [he'd say], 'It’s about time. It’s about time.'"