At the start of the 2017 season, Major League Baseball announced an exciting statistic: more than a quarter of all players in the Major League were born outside of the United States. To be more exact, 230 out of the 868 players in the league were born outside of the 50 states, 26.5 percent.
Even more exciting: players from two countries who have never had a major league player already made their debut in April.
Dovydas Neverauskas from Lithuania debuted for the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 24, 2017. The 24-year-old relief pitcher came in during the eighth inning, after arriving at PNC Park just two innings earlier. Neverauskas was called up that same day, and travelled from Indianapolis to Pittsburgh to make history for Lithuania.
Neverauskas gave up two hits and a single run in a 14-3 beating from the Cubs. Then he was reassigned to the minors. In June he was called up again briefly before being optioned to Indianapolis.
Just two days after Neverauskas made his debut, the Pirates debuted another historic player: Gift Ngoepe became the first South African to play in the Major Leagues. He is also the first player from the whole of Africa to play in the MLB. In his first game, Ngoepe recorded a single to center field off of John Lester.
Ngoepe earned himself a place on the Pirates roster, but a month later was optioned back to Indianapolis as well.
While this is great news for the sport – new players from countries who’ve never had a major leaguer plus the record breaking number of foreign born players show that baseball is growing in some capacity outside of the USA – the countries from which players come remain pretty much the same.
According to Baseball Almanac, this year’s 230 foreign born players come from 24 countries. But many of those countries have players in the single digits. For the most part, players come from the Dominican Republic (100 players), Venezuela (81), Cuba (19) and Puerto Rico (19).
Mexico adds another 11 players and Japan has eight, but the rest of the countries have less than six major leaguers.
Of course, over the years there have been player from more countries than just these 24. Overall, there are some 50 countries who’ve had at least one player in the major league (each list shows a different number as some take into consideration countries that no longer exist, for example Czechoslovakia and Western Germany).
But there are still plenty of countries where baseball is played that have never had a player make it to the majors. Argentina, New Zealand and Pakistan all had teams make it at least to the qualifiers of the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
(Israel was the surprise team of the WBC, going on a run in the tournament. But Israel’s roster was built of mostly American-born Jewish players, so we’re leaving them out of this discussion.)
Argentina has had players in the minor leagues, but none have ever made it to the majors. Pakistan’s team is home grown, built, in part, from cricket players turned baseballers. New Zealand is continuing to build both it’s national team and youth teams across the country.
We should be excited about the number of foreign born players, and the buzz that was generated around the World Baseball Classic this year. We should also be excited about the talent and will to win found outside of the US-Dominican Republic-Venezuela-Puerto Rico bubble that currently runs the major leagues.
Now let’s hope that one day – hopefully in the near future – we see the two combine, with players from more countries stepping onto a major league field for the first time, just like Gift Ngoepe and Dovydas Neverauskas did earlier this season.