If the World Cup taught us anything besides the pain of defeat, as Americans, we are once again reminded that soccer is the ultimate global sport. But how does it compare to our national pastime?
The 2014 opening day rosters for the teams in Major League Baseball boasted 224 players born outside the United States. What if a single team were as global as the World Cup?
Picture it! In our thought experiment, we had the opportunity to choose any player throughout the history of the MLB, but only one player per country allowed. It was easy to narrow down our choices for countries like Greece and Spain, where there have been under four players in the MLB. The U.S., Canada and some Caribbean countries were significantly harder.
What follows is a 23 man roster–the same number of players on a World Cup soccer team–of baseball players from World Cup countries. As you can see, the World-Cup-style baseball team of past and present players is one that could easily compete with any current Major League team.
First Base – Babe Ruth (USA)
It seems blasphemous to play the Sultan of Swat at first base, but Ruth actually played 32 games at first so it’s not completely without merit. Moreover, it keeps the portly homerun king out of the outfield where he might be even more of a defensive liability. Wherever he plays in the field, Ruth is an obvious choice to represent the U.S. and automatically makes the World Cup baseball team a legitimate offensive threat.
Second Base – Billy Martin (Portugal)
This is the first of some liberal interpretations of family lineage. According to FIFA, a player qualifies to play for a country if one of his parents is a citizen. So even though Martin wasn’t born in Portugal, his father was from the Azores and that allows him to represent Portugal. Like Bochy, Martin adds a managerial intellect to the team. Given his personality, he also adds some fire to it. Most importantly, Martin makes clutch defensive plays like the game-save catch of a Jackie Robinson popup in the 1952 World Series.
Third Base – Yan Gomes (Brazil)
Like Ruth, Gomes is forced to play a position he’s less familiar with. Unlike Ruth, you’ve probably never heard of Yan Gomes. Gomes is a catcher for the Indians, but he can also play third and first base. On the World Cup baseball team he’ll need to man the hot corner. Even if he’s a defensive liability and an unknown commodity, his .263 batting average and 7 homeruns this season is nothing to sneeze at.
Short Stop – Edgar Renteria (Colombia)
One of the more underrated short stops in baseball history, Renteria can flat out rake. He won the Silver Slugger award three times and throughout his career came up with clutch hits. Twice he won the World Series and was the World Series MVP in 2010. All in all, Renteria hits for a high average and that means that batters behind him have RBI opportunities.
Left Field – Ichiro Suzuki (Japan)
Though he’s more comfortable in center or right field, the spritely Ichiro can make due in left. As the greatest Japanese baseball player of all time, Ichiro adds some speed to the lineup and is another bat capable of racking up a high average. He won three Silver Slugger awards, one MVP award and he owns the record for most hits in a season. Ichiro is the perfect leadoff hitter to get on base and allow the other members of the World Cup baseball team to drive him home.
Center Field – Joe DiMaggio (Italy)
Played from 1936 – 1951 for the Yankees.
Though he was born in California, DiMaggio’s parents were Italian immigrants. Thus, he qualifies for Italy. You could question that logic, but remember that Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo played for Italy in the World Baseball Classic despite being a native of Florida. With DiMaggio on the World Cup baseball team, the lineup boasts another consistent contact hitter. Of course, the Yankee Clipper also had tons of power. As a three-time MVP, he adds another all-time great to the lineup alongside Ruth.
Right Field – Roger Maris (Croatia)
Though Roger Maris was born in Hibbing, Minnesota, his parents were immigrants from Croatia. In fact, Roger Maris was born Roger Maras, but his parents changed their last name to Maris so as to better accommodate themselves to life in America. Thanks to that family history, the World Cup baseball team gets the last single season homerun champ not to be tied to steroids. His power assures that all the players getting on base ahead of him will end up crossing home plate.
Fernando Valenzuela (Mexico)
This is a player who won the Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young at the same time. He’s a power pitcher with ace-of-the-staff stuff. Valenzuela’s ability to strikeout batters will negate the somewhat questionable defensive quality of the corner infielders. He also is an immensely popular figure who gave rise to “Fernandomania” in Los Angeles. Therefore, Valenzuela adds even more celebrity to a team full of legendary players and personalities.
Bert Blyleven (Netherlands)
Born in the Netherlands, Blyleven is a hero to Minnesota Twins fans who remember him as a two-time All-Star and an integral part of the Twins’ 1987 World Series win. Blyleven also won the World Series with the Pirates in 1979. Most importantly, Blyleven pitches the full nine innings. In 1985 he pitched 24 complete games. That will be important for the World Cup baseball team because the bullpen is weak.
Yu Darvish (Iran)
A Major Leaguer since 2012 currently playing for the Rangers.
Darvish was born in Japan, but has an Iranian father. Like Valenzuela, Darvish has made an immediate impact since his Major League debut. He made the All-Star team in his first two seasons and is on pace to do it again this year. Clearly, he isn’t afraid of the big stage and as the 2013 strikeout leader, he can prevent opposing batters from putting the ball in play.
Chan Ho Park (South Korea)
Even though the end of his career was unimpressive, Park had some quality seasons with the Dodgers. From 1996 to 2001 he was an important part of the Dodgers’ rotation. He maintained a low ERA and had high strikeout numbers. In 2001 he even made the All-Star team. For the World Cup baseball team, he is merely asked to be a consistent and reliable starter. Park’s time with the Dodgers proves he is more than capable of that role.
Edwin Jackson (Germany)
As the team’s fifth starter, Jackson doesn’t have high expectations placed on him. The German-born pitcher had one All-Star season in 2009. The following year, he pitched a no-hitter. Then in 2011, Jackson was a part of the St Louis team that won the World Series. So even if his stats may seem fairly average, Jackson has had some impressive career highlights.
Grant Balfour (Australia)
The hard throwing Aussie is the perfect international player to close down games in the ninth inning. No Australian pitcher has more saves or strikeouts than Balfour. He was an All-Star in 2013 and as a nine season veteran of the Majors, Balfour has the temperament to pitch in the ninth.
Catcher – Bruce Bochy (France)
Born in Landes de Bussac, France, Bochy is the anchor of the World Cup baseball team. As a player Bochy was mostly a backup. Nevertheless, the fact he went on to become one of the game’s best managers is invaluable. He can call the game from behind the plate and compensate for what will be a somewhat shaky defensive infield.
RP – Otto Hess (Switzerland)
The only MLB player from Switzerland, Hess has some misleading stats. His career ERA is 2.98 but he has 70 career wins to 90 loses. That’s due in large part to the 1909 season when Hess pitched to a 1.83 ERA, but somehow lost 17 games that season. The World Cup baseball team will surely give him better run support.
RP – Bryan Oelkers (Spain)
Due to the lack of World Cup country pitchers, Oelkers makes the roster. Though his career stats aren’t great, he did play well throughout the 1986 season. That year he went 3-3 with Cleveland and had an ERA of 4.70.
OF – Tom Brown (England)
If there is a DH position, then Brown is the first player off the bench and in the lineup. Hailing from Liverpool, Brown is a speedster. In 1891, Brown had 106 steals. His career 657 stolen bases rank him 13th all time.
OF – Gerald Young (Honduras)
The first player to make the Majors from Honduras, Young was part of a Mets draft class that included Dwight Gooden and Rafael Palmeiro. Young’s rookie season was impressive, but his career slowly tapered off. Still, he is the best player from his country and was part of the trade that brought Ray Knight to the Mets.
OF – Brian Lesher (Belgium)
The only Major Leaguer from Belgium, Lesher’s .224 carrier average isn’t all that impressive. Nevertheless, he’s a bat off the bench from an underrepresented baseball country. He can also fill in at first base.
OF – Wande Olabisi (Nigeria)
A Minor Leaguer in the Padres system since 2009.
There aren’t many Nigerian ballplayers to choose from, but Olabisi is an interesting prospect in the Padres organization. Currently at the single A level, the Nigerian is attempting to be work his way up through the minors to become the first Nigerian Major League player.
2B – Al Campanis (Greece)
He played in 1943 for the Dodgers.
The only player from Greece to have played in the Majors, Campanis didn’t have a great playing career. In fact, he had just 20 at-bats in seven games. He was, however, the manager of the Dodgers from 1968 to 1987 and so adds even more baseball intellect to the roster.
C – Eddie Ainsmith (Russia)
On a team with two qualified catchers, Ainsmith earns the slot of emergency backup. His careers stats are soft, but there are only a handful of Russian baseball players to choose from.
By Dantzler Smith for the ScoreBlog
Feature image credit: Vector Stock