The Negro League Stars That MLB Kept Out — And Is Finally Recognizing

Country/area: United States

Organisation: FiveThirtyEight

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 25/2/2021

Credit: Jay Boice, Neil Paine, Anna Wiederkehr, Emily Scherer, Sara Ziegler, Santul Nerkar

Biography: At FiveThirtyEight, we use data and evidence to advance public knowledge — adding certainty where we can and uncertainty where we must.

Project description:

In late 2020, Major League Baseball announced that it will be officially recognizing the statistics of around 3,400 players who played in seven Negro Leagues between 1920 to 1948. This project is an interactive exploration of the players from the Negro Leagues. The piece displays characteristics and skills from all NLB players and provides contextual comparisons to modern/active MLB players to help readers learn about them.

Impact reached:

With the inclusion of Negro League statistics in the overall statistical world of Major League Baseball, we wanted to tell the stories of these players and their impact on the game. The goal was to put them in context of the players MLB has long-touted and help readers understand that they should have known these incredible Black players all along. We wanted to give these statistics to our stats-minded audience but also make sure that the players were understood as more than just their statistics. This piece was featured far and wide including across ABC News properties, ESPN, The Ringer and NPR.

Techniques/technologies used:

We utilized both Excel and R for analysis of the data. Design for the interactive was done in Sketch and we used HTML, CSS, Javascript and D3.js to build the page.

What was the hardest part of this project?

After the announcement of MLB’s decision to add NLB players to the official stats, we immediately began to develop a new metric to contextualize this data for the modern baseball fan. Neil Paine created a “similarity score” based on an algorithm comparing the skills of NLB and MLB players. Knowing we would like to include this feature within a wider interactive, we designed and developed a narrative that introduced readers to these players. The resulting collaboration really showcases how FiveThirtyEight can provide both service and analysis together in a compelling visual skin.

What can others learn from this project?

This project offers a creative way to present an unfamiliar data set. We felt like the data from these important players was crucial for better understanding the history of baseball, but we wanted to tell more about them than just their stats. Putting their work in the context of players people already know makes it more obvious that we should already have known these Negro Leagues players.

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