The World Series Isn’t Global, But Baseball Players Are

The 2019 World Series kicks off tonight in Houston. “World Series” has always seemed a curious moniker, given that just one team in Major League Baseball—my adopted hometown’s, the Toronto Blue Jays—plays outside of the United States. But the word “world” is a better fit when it comes to baseball’s talent pool, which has become incredibly global.

Today, nearly three in 10 major-league players hail from outside the U.S., according to an analysis of the globalization of major-league baseball talent by my colleague at the University of Toronto School of Cities, Patrick Adler. Adler used Baseball-Reference data to track the country and metropolitan area of birth for major-league baseball players since 1900. There are numerous ways to track where a person comes from, but place of birth is the most stable and widely available data point, so he used that. On this analysis, someone who immigrated to the U.S. as a child would be counted as foreign-born.

Back in 1900, just 4 percent of major-league players were born outside the U.S., a level that remained fairly constant until about 1955. The share of foreign-born players began to pick up thereafter, crossing 10 percent after 1960, 15 percent in 1970, and 20 percent in 2000. Today, roughly three in 10 professional players hail from countries other than the United States. The lion’s share of this recent foreign talent has been players from Central America and the Caribbean.

The map and table below show the leading countries for pro baseball talent, based on the number of players who have entered the league since 2000. Many countries have contributed to the globalization trend. But just two small nations account for nearly two-thirds of all foreign players. Close to 400 recent major-league players, or almost 40 percent of all foreign players, come from the Dominican Republic. More than 200—another quarter or so—were born in Venezuela.

Four additional countries can claim more than 40 players each, together making up another 20 percent or so of foreign-born baseball talent: Puerto Rico, Canada, Japan, Cuba, and Mexico. Another six nations have provided between 10 and 22 players, or 1 to 2 percent of foreign baseball talent: Panama, Australia, South Korea, Taiwan, Curaçao, and Colombia.

Country of birth

No. of players
since 2000

Share of all foreign
players

Share of all
players

Dominican Republic

395

39.1%

11.9%

Venezuela

238

23.5%

6.7%

Puerto Rico

64

6.3%

1.77%

Canada

50

4.9%

1.4%

Japan

49

4.8%

1.4%

Cuba

48

4.7%

1.3%

Mexico

44

4.4%

1.2%

Panama

22

2.2%

0.6%

Australia

17

1.7%

0.5%

South Korea

15

1.5%

0.4%

Taiwan

13

1.3%

0.4%

Curaçao

11

1.1%

0.3%

Colombia

11

1.1%

0.3%

Source: Patrick Adler, School of Cities, University of Toronto, based on data from Baseball-Reference

Adler also drills down into players’ home cities or metro regions. The chart below shows every city or metro that was the birthplace of 40 or more players who have entered the league since 2000—both in and outside the U.S.

Los Angeles, New York, and the San Francisco Bay Area take the top three spots. Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, takes the fourth, with more than 100 players. The list includes another metro in the Dominican Republic (San Pedro), as well as Caracas in Venezuela.

Many of the foreign cities that lead in producing MLB players are relatively small places. That comes into clearer relief when we control for population. The next table lists the top 20 global cities and metros based on their number of professional baseball players per 100,000 people.

On this metric, foreign cities dominate; metros in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela take the top five positions. San Pedro in the D.R., which is sometimes referred to as the “cradle of shortstops,” has produced a whopping 14.38 MLB players per 100,000 people. Sam Cristobal, Santo Domingo, and Santiago in the Dominican Republic, and Maracay, Venezuela, round out the top five.

In conclusion: The teams facing each other in this World Series may represent two U.S. cities, but their talent reflects the world.

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