Data Analyst and Lover of Baseball and Beer
By Doug Duffy | 27/02/2016
The 90’s were the first decade I remember, but they were also the first time in the modern era of baseball when less than 90% of players were born in the USA. Growing up a white kid, in extremely whitewashed northeastern suburbia, this was pretty strange. I had never met a José, but I knew who Andrés Galarraga was. I couldn’t put Venezuela on a map (the Big Cat’s country of birth), but I could tell you he hit at Coors Field.
This decrease in American MLB players continued throughout the 90’s, primarily led by an influx of players from the Dominican Republic and to a lesser extent
Venezuela, and by the year 2000 the percentage of American players in the MLB had dropped to 80%. This time period constituted the biggest shake-up of player nationalities the MLB had ever seen. The only other large nationality shift, an influx of Cuban players in the 50s and early 60s, was less dramatic and stretched out over twice the time frame. The Cuban trend soon fizzled thanks to a few ballistic missiles and communism, and the MLB was roughly 90% American from the mid 60s until the 90s. Into the 2000s the fraction of American players shrank slightly, before levelling off at 75% and remaining essentially constant for the last decade.
Americans still make up the vast majority of MLB, they just don’t have nearly the monopoly they once did.
Dominican players first came onto the scene in the 60s, but their numbers really swelled after 1980, from 3% to 9% in 2000.
This long historical increase seems to have now stabilized around 11%, after peaking in 2006 at 12%. Now, over a quarter of Dominican players are from Distrito Nacional, the province enclosing Santo Domingo. In addition, only four other Dominican provinces account for greater than 5% of Dominican players (San Cristóbal, San Pedro de Macorís, Santiago and La Romana).
Despite also first appearing during the 60s, players from Venezuela remained only 1-2% of all MLB players until 1995. This 1-2%, though small, still made Venezuela the country with the third most MLB players starting in the early 80s. Over the last twenty years, their numbers have consistently increased, now accounting for 7% of the MLB. Although Venezuela’s Distrito Federal as recently as 1999 accounted for a third of all Venezuelan players, it now accounts for only 10% of Venezuelan players. Four Venezuelan states have surpassed the Distrito Federals current MLB player output (Carabobo, Aragua, Zulia and Anzoátegui).
Three states in America account for nearly half of all American MLB players and unsurprisingly those are also the three most populous states; California, Texas and Florida. What is surprising is that they make up half of American MLB players despite accounting for only 27% of the American population.
California has been the most common place of birth of American MLB players every year since 1948. It had hovered around 10% of American players from 1930 to 1960, before it really began to dominate American baseball swelling to 25 % of American players by 1980. It has since stabilized closer to 20%, but still sends more players to the MLB than the second and third states combined. Unsurprisingly, the majority of these players are born near California’s two major urban centers, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The Lone Star State began its ascension in the MLB player pool much later than California, moving into second place only in 2001. Historically, the percentage of American MLB players from Texas had been fairly constant, hovering around 5% from 1910 all the way until 1995. Since then, the percentage has doubled to above 10% in 2015, putting it in a near tie with our next state, Florida.
Florida has had a much longer and more gradual rise to third amongst all US states in MLB players. In 1960, the Sunshine state accounted for less than 1% of all American MLB players, but by 1990 it had increased to 5% and in 2015 it was above 10%, essentially tied for 2nd.