World Baseball Classic Underscores Global Roots Of MLB
DENVER—When it comes to the World Baseball Classic, it is vogue to root for the underdogs. If those underdogs succeed, then interest builds on an international level, and that could mean making inroads into areas where baseball has been an afterthought.
That’s why it was so encouraging to see Israel go undefeated in the opening round of this year’s WBC, though its Cinderella dreams turned into a pumpkin in the second round. It’s why the Netherlands advancing to the final four in 2013 and repeating the feat in this installment is cause for inspiration.
Consider, there has never even been a major league player who was born in Israel. At the other extreme is the United States, where baseball is the national pastime.
And then there are the 14 other countries who participated in this year’s WBC, each with their own unique history of big leaguers:
• The Dominican Republic has produced more big leaguers (669) than any country other than the U.S. and had 130 appear in a big league game last year. The D.R. also produced two Hall of Famers—Juan Marichal (inducted 1983) and Pedro Martinez (2015)—and at least four more are on the horizon: Vladimir Guerrero, David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre and Albert Pujols.
• Venezuela has produced 358 big leaguers, including 102 who were active last year. Known for shortstops—including the likes of Luis Aparicio, Ozzie Guillen and Omar Vizquel—the country has also shown some thunder. The Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera already holds the Venezuelan record with 446 home runs. The Mariners’ Felix Hernandez has become the country’s top big league pitcher.
• Puerto Rico has produced 257 big leaguers, 26 of whom appeared in the big leagues last year. Roberto Clemente became the first player born outside the U.S. to be inducted into the Hall of Fame (1973). He has been joined by Orlando Cepeda (1999), Roberto Alomar (2011) and Ivan Rodriguez (2017).
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• Canada has produced 246 big leaguers, 13 of whom played in the big leagues last year. Ferguson Jenkins became the first Canadian Hall of Famer. Larry Walker is the most dynamic Canadian to play in the big leagues.
• Cuba has produced 199 big leaguers, including 29 who appeared last season. The production of players, however, has been limited because of the relations between Cuba and the U.S. Tony Perez, however, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000.
• Mexico has produced 121 big leaguers, including 14 who appeared in the big leagues last year—but there is a catch. Mexico has its own professional leagues in the summer and winter, and until the breakthrough of Fernando Valenzuela in 1981, the players from Mexico were leery about coming to the U.S. and playing in the minor leagues. The greatest Mexican player in history, Hector Espino, played just 32 minor league games in the U.S. He hit a Mexican-record 484 home runs in his career, all but three in Mexico. Those came when he signed with the Cardinals late in the 1964 season and played 32 games at Triple-A Jacksonville.
• Japan has a strong professional system itself. While 63 Japanese-born players have appeared in the big leagues—including nine last year—59 of those players have arrived in the big leagues since 1995, when Hideo Nomo became a sensation with the Dodgers. The first Japanese big leaguer was pitcher Masanori Murakami with the 1964 Giants.
• Australia has produced 30 big leaguers, including four who appeared last year, notably relievers Liam Hendriks and Peter Moylan.
• Korea has had 22 big leaguers, including nine who played last year. Among them is the Rangers’ Shin-Soo Choo. Chan Ho Park became the first Korean big leaguer in 1994.
• Colombia has produced 20 big leaguers, six of whom were in the big leagues last year, including top-line starting pitchers Julio Teheran and Jose Quintana. Edgar Renteria, the manager of Colombia’s WBC team, hit .286 in his career with 140 home runs. In 1974, Angels shortstop Orlando Ramirez became the first native of Colombia to appear in the big leagues since 1902.
• The Kingdom of the Netherlands has had 12 big leaguers, including young middle infielders who grew up in Dutch territories in the Caribbean—such as Xander Bogaerts, Didi Gregorius, Jurickson Profar and Jonathan Schoop—as well as Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven.
• Taiwan has had 11 players appear in the big leagues, including three last season. Chin-Feng Chen was the first to make it to the majors with the 2002 Dodgers.
• Italy has had seven players appear in the big leagues, most notably Alex Liddi, currently a Mexican Leaguer who played with Seattle from 2011-13.