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Puerto Rico Herald

It’s That Time of the Year Again: Celebrating Puerto Rican Baseball Stars

April 12, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Puerto Rico Herald. All Rights Reserved. 

At the beginning of each baseball season, the 30 major league teams publish their official rosters. This announcement is not usually greeted with much fanfare. After all, the baseball season lasts six months, and in that time players come and go in a constant rotation between active rosters, disabled lists, and the minor leagues.

In recent years, however, the Opening Day major league rosters have attracted more attention, for even a cursory glance at them reveals an explosion of international players. It has become almost routine to see superstars from Japan and Cuba, reformed cricket players from Australia, and a seemingly endless supply of young talent from the Dominican Republic.

This year the trend continues, and nearly 200 players representing 15 foreign countries were in uniform on Opening Day. With just about 850 total players in the major leagues, the "American pastime" is clearly acquiring a more diverse, multilingual, multicultural image.

Where do Puerto Rican baseball players fit into these statistics? Puerto Ricans are not newcomers to baseball stardom. Thirty years ago, Roberto Clemente, who opened so many doors for Puerto Ricans, was beginning his final season. Since that time, both Clemente and Orlando Cepeda have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, and a generation of star athletes like Juan González, Iván Rodríguez, Roberto Alomar, and Bernie Williams seem destined for Cooperstown as well. Already this year, Carlos Delgado and Sandy Alomar are both off to torrid starts.

Despite these continuing accomplishments, however, Puerto Ricans are often relegated to outsider status by the sports media. Without fail, they are lumped in with the "foreign" ballplayers in press accounts of baseball’s international boom, though, after complaints a few years ago, those reports tend now to refer to players from "outside the 50 states." Yet Puerto Rico, with its 39 major leaguers, is more or less alone when it comes to US territories who contribute professional ballplayers (apologies to Calvin Pickering of the US Virgin Islands).

In fact, so many Puerto Ricans make it to "the Show" that the island is often listed among the top countries who send their players to the US and Canada to play ball. Among those countries, only the Dominican Republic (79 major leaguers) has more representation than Puerto Rico’s 39. The runners-up this year are Venezuela (38), Mexico (18), Cuba (11), and Japan (11).

Puerto Rico, however, is not another country; and baseball players born in Puerto Rico are not foreigners but US citizens. Perhaps it makes more sense, then, to compare Puerto Rican major leaguers to their fellow Americans from the mainland.

The Herald has analyzed the biographies of US-born major leaguers in order to determine the home state of each athlete. The results of that research suggest that Puerto Ricans are more than simply well-represented "international" players; they also hold their own with the most populous and most baseball-crazed states in the Union.

Looking at Puerto Rican participation from this angle, only four states have contributed more players to this year’s major league rosters than Puerto Rico. California boasts 175 major leaguers, followed by Texas (53), Illinois (42), and Florida (41). Each of these states has a population at least three times that of Puerto Rico (California’s is almost nine times bigger). Each of these states is also home to at least two major league teams, with four based in California alone.

Considering the next four states with high numbers of major league players, the pattern becomes even more pronounced: New York (33 players), Ohio (27), Georgia (26), and Pennsylvania (23) are all much more populous than Puerto Rico and have top baseball franchises; but none of them has as many native sons in the big leagues.

Indeed, when you look at all the numbers, foreign and domestic, nobody has a higher proportion of current major leaguers than Puerto Rico. 39 out of a population of 3.9 million people means that one person out of every 100,000 in Puerto Rico is right now a major league baseball player (which doesn’t even count retired players or minor league prospects). Only the Dominican Republic comes close to matching that figure.

Ultimately, all of these calculations are academic. The 39 Puerto Rican big leaguers don’t need a pie chart to show how well they play the game. They don’t need a newspaper to tell them they are special, or that they stack up to any other set of ball players from the US mainland or any other country. They demonstrate that themselves, every time they step on the field.

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