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A Whittier baseball museum is ready to step up to the plate after Negro League integration

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For nearly a decade, the one-of-a-kind Institute for Baseball Studies at Whittier College has operated in relative obscurity, offering researchers and historians rich collections documenting the development of America’s favorite pastime.

Situated in a nondescript corner on the third floor of the college’s Mendenhall building, the entirely volunteer run, appointment-only museum while an encyclopedic resource, has been a little known passion project since the Baseball Reliquary partnered with the school to create the Institute in 2015.

The Reliquary — which is defined as a container of relics — began as a traveling museum in 1996, bringing memorabilia often showcasing marginalized groups in baseball’s history such as women and racial minorities to libraries, museums and universities.

For those in the know enough to find the Institute, striding past the stacks of chairs and stored chalkboards gathering dust, catalogs of big league history detailing the experience of minority groups await.

But following Major League Baseball’s integration of statistics from roughly 2,300 Negro Leagues players into their record books this week, the museum will be updating its exhibits and is prepping to step into the spotlight.

Professors prepare for the Grand opening of the Institute for Baseball Studies and the Baseball Reliquary on third floor of Mendenhall at Whittier College in Whittier on Friday January 16, 2015. The institute with their books, documents and artifacts will be open to students and the public. (Photo by Keith Durflinger/Whittier Daily News)
File photo: The Institute for Baseball Studies and the Baseball Reliquary on third floor of Mendenhall at Whittier College in Whittier on Friday January 16, 2015. The institute with their books, documents and artifacts will be open to students and the public. (Photo by Keith Durflinger/Whittier Daily News)

In 2020, the League announced it would undertake the correction and formed a 17-person committee that ultimately was able to include about 72% of Negro Leagues statistics from 1920 to 1948 into their records.

That move upends major league records and statistics of prominent players, meaning Institute Director Joe Price will have to update its collections, though plans are to be decided. But more importantly for the museum, with a collection of Negro Leagues artifacts that even rivals the Library of Congress, the change brings the Institute to new prominence.

“This now elevates our stature, it kind of gives us a gold star,” Price said.

One of the earliest collections the museum received, Price said, included 500 artifacts from Negro Leagues players, including signed baseballs, bats, and other equipment. Building on that, they then focused on increasing their library collection related to the Negro Leagues.

Price said the significance of the integration is remarkable, adding that it was important for the Negro Leagues players to become fully part of the MLB and its Hall of Fame, without a separate wing or any asterisks.

“It’s basically the completion of the integration project that started long ago with Jackie Robinson, signing with the Dodgers in 1947,” he said, adding that members of the American Society of Baseball Researchers have been pushing the move for years.

Price said he hopes as Negro Leagues players and the Institute for Baseball Studies become more popular, their trailblazing, humanities-focused research center will inspire similar projects elsewhere and for other sports.

In the past, the museum has produced exhibits such as, “A Game of Color: The African-American Experience in Baseball,” the public symposium “Equal to the Game: Women and Baseball,” and one of their signature pieces, “Mexican-American Baseball in Los Angeles: From the Barrios to the Big Leagues.”

“At the time that we were founded, we basically had to invent what we were doing,” Price said. “It was something that had not been done, to my knowledge, but hopefully it keeps growing from here.”

Records integrated include the first Negro National League (1920-31), Eastern Colored League (1923-28), American Negro League (1929), East-West League (1932), Negro Southern League (1932), second Negro National League (1933-48) and Negro American League (1937-48). Barnstorming exhibition games are not included

Negro League greats such as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Jackie Robinson will have their statistics updated. However information on Baseball Hall of Fame plaques will remain the same.

The update means Gibson becomes Major League Baseball’s career leader with a .372 batting average, surpassing Ty Cobb’s .367, as well the career leader in hitting percentage (.718) and OPS (1.177), moving ahead of Babe Ruth (.690 and 1.164).

Jackie Robinson, who broke MLB’s color barrier with the 1947 Dodgers, was credited with 49 hits with the 1945 Kansas City Monarchs that increased his total to 1,567. Among pitchers, Satchel Paige gained 28 wins that raised his total to 125.

A full updated version of the MLB’s record database will become public on June 20, before a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants, which will honor the Negro Leagues.

“We are a resource center, a library, an art gallery, and house a number of archives, so our primary purpose is to support research into the significance of baseball and American culture,” Price said. “This will make us and our mission even more significant.”

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