Answer to Map #48

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Answer: This week’s map was a dot map in which each dot indicated the birthplace of a Major League Baseball player. Specifically, this map includes dots for all the players who made their Major League debuts between the year 2000 and 2015—in all, that’s just over 3,000 players. Note that dots for players born in the same city appear exactly on top of one another, so they are indistinguishable.

In recent years, baseball has become a more and more international sport. The Dominican Republic, in particular, has sent a lot of players to the Major Leagues. The first Dominican to debut in the Majors was Ozzie Virgil, who came up with the New York Giants in 1956. Now, the entire country is filled with dots. Prominent current Dominican players include the likes of José Bautista, Robinson Canó, and Nelson Cruz, all of whom are represented by dots on this map.

The best way to solve this map is to note which places besides the United States are well represented: the Spanish-speaking Caribbean (especially Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela) and East Asia (especially Japan and South Korea). All of these countries have strong teams every four years in the World Baseball Classic.

And what about those dots that seem to sit on their own? Hopefully you didn’t let them throw you off. The two in Saudi Arabia refer to two Americans born to families employed by the oil industry, Craig Stansberry and Alex Wilson. Similarly, that dot on Borneo marks the birthplace of the only Indonesian-born player in Major League Baseball, Tom Mastny. Mastny was born in East Bontang, Indonesia, but he actually grew up in Zionsville, Indiana.

Those of you old enough to remember the 1995 season may remember the debut of Hideo Nomo with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Nomo was not actually the first Japanese player to play in Major League Baseball, but he was the one who opened the door for an influx of Japanese stars. Nomo won Rookie of the Year and threw two no-hitters. His games were broadcast live in Japan despite the time difference. He isn’t represented with a dot on this map because he debuted before 2000. There is, however, a dot on this map in Toyoyama, a suburb of Nagoya. That town was the birthplace of Ichiro Suzuki, who debuted with the Seattle Mariners in 2001 as the first prominent Japanese position player to reach the Majors.

Do you know when the first player born on the continent of Asia started playing Major League Baseball? The answer is 1914, the year Harry Kingman started playing for the New York Yankees. Kingman was born in 1892 in Tianjin, China, to parents who were missionaries.

And the first player born on the continent of Africa? That didn’t happen until this year, 2017. (Sadly, our map only covers players who came up between 2000 and 2015) Gift Ngoepe grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. His mother was a clubhouse attendant for an all-white baseball team in the 1990s, as apartheid was ending. Ngoepe, his mother, and his two brothers lived in a seven-and-a-half-foot-by-nine-foot room off the clubhouse next to the shower stalls. Growing up around a baseball team helped Ngoepe develop his athletic talents. This spring, he became the first African player ever to play Major League Baseball when he came up with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Pirates signed Ngoepe after he took part in a special baseball academy in Europe, where he was mentored by Hall of Famer Barry Larkin. The existence of such an academy speaks to the desire of Major League Baseball to internationalize the game of baseball. The quality of play will improve—and, presumably, more people around the world will watch games on television—if more young athletes are introdcued to baseball. This month, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred publicly discussed his hope of bringing a team to Mexico City as part of his efforts to expand baseball’s international audience.

But don’t make the mistake of assuming that internationalizing baseball is a new goal. Albert Spalding led a tour of professional players around the world in 1888. They played exhibition games against top Australian cricket teams. When they passed through the Suez Canal, they stopped off in Cairo to see the Pyramids. There, they played a game called “give the Sphinx a black eye,” where they took turns throwing baseballs at the Sphinx to see who could come closest to hitting its eye. These barnstorming tours around the world continued well into the twentieth century. In 1934, an all-star team that included Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig played a series in Japan, where baseball was already popular. Over 500,000 fans turned out to greet the American players as they paraded through Tokyo.

Nevertheless, the World Baseball Classic, which started in 2005, can hardly match international competitions in other sports for the depth of the field. In fact, the organizers of the competition were so concerned about being able to field enough teams for an interesting tournament that they adopted a rule not found in most other international sports. In order to represent a country, you don’t need to be a citizen of that country; you only need to be eligible for citizenship there. That rule has been a boon to Israel, a country whose Law of Return states that any Jew is eligible to move to Israel and become a citizen. Many retired Jewish Major League players with American citizenship, such as former pitcher Jason Marquis, signed up to represent Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic. The team then beat the Netherlands (whose roster included some excellent players born in Aruba or Curaçao), South Korea, Chinese Taipei, and Cuba before bowing out.

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