The Cardinals bested the Tigers in five games, and that’s the only story that really matters to baseball fans at the close of the 2006 World Series. Of course, the Fall Classic always will have its sideshows, the big one this year being an alleged “substance” that for an inning graced the palm of Detroit pitcher Kenny Rogers. But from the bleacher seats where I sit, this year’s series will resonate for a much more important reason: Whether you noticed or not, about one-quarter of the players on the combined Tigers/Cardinals active roster were born outside the United States — a testament to the benefits of open immigration and global competition.
Non-natives on each team’s 25-man roster played key roles in events leading up to this year’s series. St. Louis first baseman Albert Pujols (Dominican Republic) ranked first in the National League in slugging (.671), second in home runs (49) and runs batted-in (137), and third in batting average (.331). Joining Pujols in the Cards 2006 lineup were right fielder So Taguchi (Japan), who had some key pinch hits in the N.L. championship series, and outfielder Juan Encarnacion (Dominican Republic).
The Tigers, meanwhile, boasted one of the most geographically diverse teams in Major League Baseball this October. Nine Tigers were born outside the U.S., including starting second baseman Placido Polanco (Dominican Republic) and right fielder Magglio Ordonez (Venezuela). It was Ordonez’s dramatic three-run homer in the ninth inning of game 4 of the A.L. championship series that delivered the Tigers their first World Series berth since 1984.
Detroit’s pitching staff, which had the lowest earned run average in the major leagues, included Wilfredo Ledezma (Venezuela) and Fernando Rodney (Dominican Republic), while other non-U.S. born Tigers included first baseman Carlos Guillen (Venezuela), shortstop Ramon Santiago (Dominican Republic), infielders Omar Infante (Venezuela) and Neifi Perez (Dominican Republic), and outfielder Alexis Gomez (Dominican Republic).
The Tigers and Cardinals had met twice in the post-season prior to this year’s series, each time with rosters that were top heavy with U.S.-born players. Every player in the 1934 series was born in the United States. In the 1968 series, the only players born outside the U.S. were Tigers reliever John Hiller (Canada) and Cardinals second baseman Julian Javier (Dominican Republic).
In more recent years, however, non-natives not only have played in the World Series in increasing numbers, but have made key contributions for the winners. In 2001, Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Danny Bautista (Dominican Republic) recorded the series’ highest batting average. In 2002, Anaheim Angels pitcher Francisco Rodriguez (Venezuela) won one game and had the lowest earned-run average for the series. In 2003, Florida Marlins pitcher Ugueth Urbina (Venezuela) saved two games in the final innings. Two years ago, Boston Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez (Dominican Republic) was the World Series MVP. And a year ago, manager Ozzie Guillen (Venezuela) led the Chicago White Sox to their first championship since 1917.
Some non-natives, like Guillen, are naturalized U.S. citizens. Others are professional athletes on P-1 visas, which are available only to athletes on teams recognized at an international level. Yet immigration issues still arise for major league teams and players; the Cardinals Encarnacion, for instance, almost didn’t make it to this year’s spring training in Florida.
The problem is more serious in baseball’s minor leagues. At this level, non-native players are considered “seasonal” workers who must rely on H-2B visas, which are not always available since this is a “capped” program. Simply, a non-native baseball player unable to secure an H-2B visa cannot play for a minor league team, a key stepping stone on the way to the major leagues.
That said, American baseball has come a long way since Venezuela’s Alex Carresquel (1939), the Dominican Republic’s Ozzie Virgil (1956), and Japan’s Masanori Murakami (1964) became the first from their respective nations to play in the big leagues. Indeed, open immigration and increased global competition have created a better product for the millions of fans watching the game. Why better? Well, just imagine major league baseball in 2006 without Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki (Japan), Mets shortstop Jose Reyes (Dominican Republic), Twins pitcher Johan Santana (Venezuela), Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (Dominican Republic), or Yankees pitcher Chien-Ming Wang (Taiwan).
It would be a shame if this process were somehow restricted or reversed, and it would be a welcome development if it were somehow enhanced. Indeed, Congress should expand the number of H-2B visas available to minor league players or extend P-1 status to all eligible ballplayers at the major — and minor – league levels.
If Major League Baseball can continue to lock in the world’s best bats and gloves, America’s pastime will continue to flourish.
– Greg Kaza is executive director of the Arkansas Policy Foundation, a nonpartisan economic research group founded in 1995 in Little Rock.