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After 100 Years, MLB Recognizes Negro Leagues As 'Major League'

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Major League Baseball has finally accepted players from the Negro Leagues as major leaguers. MLB says this decision comes 100 years after the start of the Negro Leagues. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Approximately 3,400 players competed in the Negro Leagues from 1920 to 1948. They were kept out of the segregated major leagues. And then, when an opportunity came up in 1969 to retroactively award the Negro Leagues major league status, an MLB committee didn't consider it. Yesterday, MLB said that was clearly an error. Larry Lester is a Negro Leagues historian. Speaking on All Things Considered, he acknowledged MLB correcting what it calls an error and longtime oversight is, in fact, correcting racism.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LARRY LESTER: My initial impression was, why did it take so long? But I think the country is ready for change. And now we have this social reparation with the Negro Leagues.

GOLDMAN: Ninety-six-year-old Bill Greason is one of a handful of Negro Leaguers still alive. When I reached the former pitcher at his home in Birmingham, Ala., he was watching TV news but hadn't heard the news that involved him.

Major League Baseball is saying that this is long overdue recognition for the Negro Leagues. What do you think about that?

BILL GREASON: Well, it would be better if they would send a check (laughter).

GOLDMAN: Greason, a Baptist minister for the past 50 years, says baseball's decision is good. But, he says, there are only a few of us left. He has good memories of the two seasons in the late 1940s when he played for the Birmingham Black Barons. The focus, he says, was on what they had, not what they didn't.

GREASON: We were together. We had good attendances at ballgames. And we tried to help each other.

GOLDMAN: And long before yesterday's recognition, Greason and his fellow Negro Leaguers knew they were major league caliber.

GREASON: Oh, sure, sure. I did. I had what was necessary to be a good pitcher. And I had the stuff to go with it.

GOLDMAN: Including a tough curveball and 93-mile-an-hour fastball. It may not be good enough for him to crack the record books, but others will. MLB is launching a review of how Negro League stats will affect the game's records. Stars long gone like Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and others will soon be measured alongside baseball's great white players, rightly, finally.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRONTIDE'S "STILL LIFE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.