Here we embark upon an exercise on the internationality of Major League Baseball. There have been over 22,000 players in the history of the game, with many of its brightest stars being born outside of the United States. Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki and Larry Walker, just to name a few. The World Baseball Classic serves as a regular reminder of how much the sport has grown internationally, and the incredible talent that other nations produce. However, the World Baseball Classic has a very interesting facet to it that flies under the radar. That being, a player does not need to actually be a citizen to be eligible to play for a nation, he simply needs to be eligible to obtain citizenship.
This throws a very interesting wrinkle into the competition, as nations are able to bring in talent that would be unavailable in other international tournaments, such as the Olympic Games. With loose eligibility rules, we’ve seen some true superstars suit up for countries we didn’t expect. Freddie Freeman played for Canada and Shawn Green represented Israel, among others.
This twist has led to a project years in the making, wherein we take a look at different nations and how a theoretical all-time World Baseball Classic would look. This takes players from any point in time and allows them to be concentrated on teams. For instance, Freddie Freeman, Tom Glavine and Nap LaJoie are all on Team Canada.
Eligibility requirements are extremely loose for this exercise. A player doesn’t need to have ever been a citizen of a nation to play for them. A player needs only to be eligible for citizenship. For our purposes, this means foreign-born parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents can get a player in. A spouse will also qualify, as will establishing residency in another country. Anyone who has played or coached for a national team will be eligible for that nation. Basically, any uniformed personnel are in.
One caveat is that this is an art, not a science. There are no unbreakable rules and nothing will ever be perfect. Oftentimes research takes us back well over a century, where record keeping was much less reliable and information is harder to obtain. When an exact birthplace is impossible to verify, culture and language are used as criteria. For example, a player whose parents can only be determined to be Serbian speakers from then-Yugoslavia would be placed on Team Serbia. We do our best to make sure everything is fact checked and confirmed, but we can still make some errors. If you see anything, please let us know.
Lastly, there will be outliers. Sometimes a team needs another warm body and an exception can be made. For instance, New Zealand isn’t quite up to a full 26-man roster. Mark Gilbert played seven big league contests for the 1985 White Sox. Gilbert went on to a distinguished career as a diplomat, and served as U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand. No, he isn’t a citizen, or eligible for citizenship in any way. He also hasn’t represented New Zealand on an international level. But, he has a strong connection to the nation and he won’t tip the scales of this all-time World Baseball Classic in any meaningful way. Therefore, we’ll let it slide and put him on Team New Zealand just to help them hit the mark.
Also, a player can only be placed on one national team. Many players will be eligible for multiple teams because so many Americans come from diverse backgrounds. Due to this, a player will be assigned to where he will be the most helpful. For example, Hall of Famer Jim Kaat has a Dutch-born grandfather, making him eligible for that team, and has also coached for the New Zealand national team, making him eligible there as well. The Dutch squad is frankly much better, and doesn’t need a pitcher of Kaat’s caliber nearly as much as New Zealand does, so Kaat goes to New Zealand in order to create as much parity as possible. The goal is to see how the best each country has to offer can fare against each other, not to watch a few loaded rosters pummel the rest of the competition.
The end result of this exercise will be a simulated all-time World Baseball Classic. Rosters will be compiled and they’ll be pitted against each other using Out of the Park Baseball. Hopefully, we’ll see some really interesting matchups and find out some things we never knew. Research will always be ongoing and new players will continue to be added. If you know of anything we missed, feel free to reach out and let us know. We want to see each team be the best it can be.
Questions or comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, or reach out via Twitter: @EthanPechersky