Since the first “Midsummer Classic,” held at Comiskey Park in Chicago in 1933, this is the point in the season when avid baseball fans focus their attention on the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Though basically an exhibition game, preceded the night before by the MLB’s Home Run Derby, the All-Star Game continues to draw considerable attention. Hundreds of millions of dollars are bet on the game, and while MLB television ratings have been falling, 8.7 million viewers tuned in to watch the 2018 game on television. So with this year’s game coming on July 9th, die-hard fans, inquiring minds and hopeful gamblers want to know who will win: the National League or the American League?
Our answer? The team that plays the greatest percentage of foreign-born players.
In many sporting events, the best advice is bet on the streak. From 1933 to 2018, the American League has won the All-Star Game 44 times, and the National League won 43 times. There were two ties. In recent years, however, the American League has been on a tear. Since 2000, the American League won the All-Star game 15 times (78.9 percent), the National League won three times (15.8 percent), and in 2002 the game was tied.
But the All-Star Game is a different type of event, making a streak much less meaningful. There is considerable turnover in the teams’ rosters each year, due to a convoluted selection process that is a collective and collaborative effort, including fans, players, coaches, league managers, and the Commissioner’s Office. In fact, over the years there have been nearly 5,300 All-Star player roster slots, but 30 percent of those slots have been occupied by players with only one or two All-Star appearances. Yes, you have Hank Aaron, who appeared in 25 All-Star games, and Willie Mays and Stan Musial in 24 each, but over half of the roster slots are filled by players who appear in four or fewer All-Star games.
Rather than going with the streak, we believe one should consider another dimension of the teams. Major League Baseball—even more so than the United States as a whole—has welcomed the foreign-born players to its ranks. The number of MLB players born outside of the United States began to increase slowly in the post-Jackie Robinson era, then more dramatically after the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. Following the more open immigration policies in the 1980s and 1990s, the percentage of foreign-born MLB players has routinely exceeded the foreign-born percentage in the population as a whole in the past decade. Today, the percentage of foreign born MLB players is double the proportion found in the population at large—and to the point at hand, this percentage is even higher among MLB All-Stars.
We say, bet on the 2019 All-Star team that plays the greatest percentage of foreign-born players. Based on the final rosters there seems to be good reason to bet against the streak. There are thirty-two slots on the full roster for each team. The American League roster includes five foreign-born players (three from the Dominican Republic and two from Cuba), while the National League roster contains eight foreign-born players (a diverse group with three from the Dominican Republic, two from Venezuela, and one each from Cuba, Canada, and South Korea). This prediction will only be settled on July 9th, when we see which team actually plays the greatest number of immigrants. But whatever the final score the primary takeaway remains the same. Foreign-born MLB players from the Caribbean and South America, especially the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Venezuela, have played a major role in shaping America’s pastime and aiding in the development and growth of Major League Baseball within and outside of the United States.
Baseball can teach us an important lesson: The team with the greatest number of foreign-born players has historically tended to be the strongest team. In much the same way, immigration makes us stronger as a nation, too.
— James Witte is a professor in the department of sociology and anthropology at George Mason University and director of GMU’s Institute for Immigration Research. Marissa Kiss is a doctoral student in sociology and a graduate research affiliate at the Institute for Immigration Research.
July 08, 2019