“When I was growing up, my favorite sport was baseball. One of my most exciting memories was attending the World Series in 1944 between the St. Louis Cardinals and the St. Louis Browns. Baseball is a wonderful activity for boys and young men. It helps develop mental discipline, patience, and obeying rules. A lower percentage of professional baseball players have post-career troubles compared with football and basketball players, and baseball is a safer sport, too.The best baseball players today are American-born. All six of the six recipients of the top awards this past season are native-born American. But more than a quarter of Major League Baseball players today are foreign-born, with whom our youth are less likely to identify. Some of these players cannot speak English, and they did not rise through the ranks of Little League. These foreign-born players enter on visas and take positions that should have gone to American players. Fewer than four percent of the Baseball Hall of Fame is foreign-born, yet 27 percent of today’s players are.”
Well, not quite, Mrs. Schlafly. Yes, it is true that fewer than four percent of Hall of Famers are foreign-born, but international players also weren’t as prevalent in early decades and many would have been barred from the league due to their skin color. And yes, all six recipients of this year’s top awards (MVP, Cy Young and manager of the year) went to Americans, but those awards don’t always go to U.S.-born players. Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera, a Venezuelan native, won the AL MVP in consecutive years in 2012 and 2013; and Angels first baseman Albert Pujols, a Dominican-born player, won the NL award in 2005, 2008 and 2009. Just last year, Kansas City’s Salvador Perez, another Venezuelan, was named the World Series MVP, and three of the last four winners of the award have been foreign, as well.
And beyond the recent examples (of which there are many), maybe Schlafly did not realize baseball has roots in foreign talent.
Hobe Ferris, who played for the Boston Red Sox in the first World Series in 1903, was born in England before moving to America. That 1944 World Series matchup she gleefully remembers featured a Cuban coach named Mike Gonzalez, who was serving on the Cardinals staff when they defeated the Browns in six games. Gonzalez is known for being the first Latin American manager in MLB history and one of the first players from the region.
Without import players, Americans wouldn’t have been exposed to the greatness of Japanese-born Ichiro Suzuki and his quest for 3,000 hits. Other stars like Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero, Albert Pujols and Sammy Sosa, who were all born in the Dominican Republic, made the game more memorable for being apart of it. And let’s not forget the U.S.’s northern neighbors (yes, you, Canada!) — sorry, Larry Walker, Joey Votto and Justin Morneau.
There is also Mariano Rivera, arguably the greatest closer in the history of the game, who is from Panama.
So, the four percent number Schlafly referenced, that will surely rise soon enough.
Schlaftly, of course, wasn’t done, and added a few choice comments about why baseball has lagged in popularity of late:
“This foreign influx into our National Pastime may help explain why our youth is abandoning baseball. Youth who play baseball have declined by more than 40 percent since 2000, and some communities where baseball was once booming now struggle to fill teams. Television ratings for World Series games are less than half what they were three decades ago.”
Okay, yes, baseball’s viewership has declined, but maybe that’s the fault of the sport and not where those playing the sports are from. MLB has made great strides in recent years in attracting new audiences, including from abroad, and players like Bryce Harper are out to make baseball less “tired.”
Yes, America’s pastime may look a little different than when MLB was founded in 1903, but it’s still pretty American. It’s breakdown of foreign players lags well behind the NHL, which is composed of only 24.1 percent American players, and is just ahead of the NBA. Of the 868 players on Opening Day rosters last year, 230 (26.5 percent) were foreign-born. Of the NBA’s 466 players on NBA opening day rosters, 100 (21.5 percent) were international players.
So given baseball’s popularity in locations like Japan and Latin America, one could say that baseball is one of America’s greatest exports, rather than it’s pastime (which is probably more accurately football now anyways).