Major League Baseball will recognize stats from Negro Leagues. One historian says that’s insufficient

Milwaukee Brave Hank Aaron dives safely back into first base Sunday during attempted pickoff by Dodger pitcher Howie Reed. Applying tag is LA first baseman Wes Parker. Action came in first game of a double header in which the Braves beat the Dodgers twice by identical scores of 5-1. June 15, 1964. Photo by Bob Martin/Valley Times Collection/LA Public Library.

It’s baseball’s opening day. KCRW takes you back almost 50 years to April 8, 1974. That night, Atlanta’s Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s hallowed home run record as the Braves were playing the Dodgers.

Hank Aaron was one of the last full-time Major Leaguers who spent the early part of his career playing in the Negro Leagues. All-Black baseball thrived at the height of Jim Crow, before Jackie Robinson of the then-Brooklyn Dodgers broke baseball’s color barrier.

Just a month before Hank Aaron died, Major League Baseball announced it would include decades-worth of Negro League figures into its official record books. It was a way to honor past players never given their proper due, and to try to atone for the injustice of segregated baseball.

Is it enough? Maybe not, says Rowan Ricardo Phillips, a poet, historian, and author well-known for his sportswriting. He had a big piece in the New York Times Magazine this past week headlined “Justice for the Negro Leagues Will Mean More Than Just Stats.”

“The notion of elevating these players to Major League status is incredibly problematic,” Phillips tells Press Play. “The implication is that the Negro Leagues were beneath major league baseball. And that’s certainly not the case.”