N.C. Negro Leaguers get spotlight

MLB's decision to integrate statistics from long-ignored leagues benefits several local legends

Buck Leonard (left) accepts his plaque, after being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. The Rocky Mount native’s statistics, compiled in the Negro Leagues during the period that baseball was segregated, now stand alongside other MLB players. (AP Photo)

Baseball’s Black greats, who were denied the opportunity and everlasting glory of Major League Baseball, finally received their due honor and recognition in the history of America’s pastime.

The MLB incorporated Negro League stats from over 2,300 players in its all-time records last week. This comes over three years after the MLB’s 2020 announcement that seven different Negro Leagues from 1920-48 would be recognized as Major Leagues.

The new records include stats from the following Major Leagues: 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).

According to MLB, Negro Leagues records between 1920-48 are nearly 75% complete, and further updates could come in the future. The newly added stats, compiled and incorporated by Seamheads, Retrosheet, the Elias Sports Bureau and the Negro League Statistical Review Committee can be found on http://MLB.com .

Amongst the many players now included in the MLB’s record books, are North Carolina natives whose legacies will now live on. From all-time greats to lesser-known names, here’s a look at some of the Old North State’s Negro League standouts and where they fall in the all-time record books:


Buck Leonard

MLB records show that Buck Leonard, a native of Rocky Mount, played for the Homestead Grays in the Negro National League from 1935-48. Playing as a left-handed first baseman, Leonard racked up some impressive numbers in his career, winning two Negro National League batting champion titles (1935 and 1938) and three Negro World Series titles in 1943, 1944 and 1948. He was also inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

It won’t take long to find him in all-time Major League statistics. Amongst all Major League players across all leagues in history, Leonard ranks seventh in OPS (on-base plus slugging, 1.042), fifth in OBP (on-base percentage, .452), eighth in batting average (.345) and 11th in slugging percentage (.590).

Leonard had an all-time season in 1938 with the Grays, in which he recorded the 24th-best single season OPS (1.240), 15th-best single season batting average (.420) and 24th-best single season slugging percentage (.740) in all of MLB history. He also beat his own record in 1939, achieving the 23rd-highest single season slugging percentage ever (.746).

Chino Smith

A right fielder, Chino Smith is believed to have been born in Hamlet, although his origin has also been traced to South Carolina’s cities of Greenwood or Antioch. Although not much is known about Smith, who died at the age of 30, his new place in the MLB record books tell the story of a legend with much more to give.

Smith, who played from 1925-29 in leagues statistically recognized by the MLB, put out one of the single greatest seasons of all time in his 1929 campaign with the New York Lincoln Giants of the American Negro League. That year, Smith played in 67 games and posted the second-highest single season batting average (.451), fourth-highest single-season OBP (.551) and fourth-highest single-season slugging percentage (.870).

With the American Negro League only existing for the 1929 season, Smith is the all-time leader for seven stats in the American Negro League records, including OPS (1.421), home runs (22), runs (86), doubles (29), OBP, slugging percentage and batting average.

For his entire career, which includes his four seasons in the Eastern Colored League (one season with the Washington Potomacs and three with the Brooklyn Royal Giants), Smith recorded a batting average of .398, 32 home runs, 161 RBIs and 29 stolen bases. He was inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame in 2023. Because Smith didn’t reach the minimum standard for 1,800 career at-bats and 600 innings, his career stats were not included on the MLB leaderboards.

Gentry Jessup

A right-handed pitcher from Westfield, Gentry Jessup played in the Negro American League from 1940-48, spending one full season with the Birmingham Black Barons and six seasons with the Chicago American Giants. He played for both teams in 1941 and 1943.

Jessup completed his career with the third-best all-time ERA for the Negro American League (3.40) and the seventh-most strikeouts (241). Pitching in 452.2 innings, Jessup only allowed three home runs which is the second-least homers allowed by a Negro American League pitcher who pitched more than 300 innings. The only other pitcher in the league to allow less home runs in over 300 innings pitched was Satchel Paige, the Hall of Famer that allowed just two home runs in 453 innings during his stint in the Negro American League.