Since my June 27th column, Immigrant Baseball—The Bubble Bursts, I have become fascinated by the numbers of American-born players in Major League Baseball, how they perform versus their foreign-born teammates and how their respective clubs fare in the standings.
During every game that I watch, I have my indispensable Who`s Who in Baseball at my side to check the birthplace of various batters as they come to the plate.
One conclusion is inescapable: the teams with the highest percentage of Americans and the lowest payrolls are the surprise of baseball. Those are the Oakland A`s, Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays and Florida Marlins.
Obviously, the reverse holds true: teams that have spent the most money and have a high percentage of immigrant players have been huge disappointments, relative to pre-season expectations: the New York Yankees, the New York Mets and the Detroit Tigers.
Last week the A`s, despite its current success (second place in the American League West) and although being well known throughout baseball as penurious, signed 16-year-old Michel Inoa, a 6-foot-7 right-hander with a blazing fastball who, general manager Billy Beane projects, will dominate hitters for years to come. [In Inoa, Oakland Has Its Sweet 16, by Susan Slusser, San Francisco Chronicle, July 3, 2008]
The A`s shelled out $4.25 million for Inoa, a lofty sum for a team that has relied on signing players straight off the U.S. college campuses.
In a curious statement, Beane said that signing Inoa reflects the team`s growing commitment to Latin Americans—even though Oakland`s minor league system has nurtured an entire crop of solid if not spectacular U.S. players.
Until he signed Inoa, Beane had defied the conventional approach that holds that big-name, power hitters and young pitchers with rocket arms are the key to diamond success.
Armed with massive amounts of carefully-interpreted statistical data, Beane believed that wins could be had by more inexpensive methods such as relying on hitters with high on-base percentage and pitchers who get lots of ground ball outs.
Although working with a tight budget, Beane built winning teams made up of young affordable players and selective castoff veterans. Beane`s success is the subject of a best-selling book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning An Unfair Game.
Regarding Inoa, what`s done is done.
However, a cautionary note for the A`s: bonus baby busts are a dime a dozen beginning with the very first one five decades ago. In the early 1950s, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Paul Pettit, a left-handed "can`t miss" pitcher, for the then unheard of sum of $100,000.
In his two-year career, Pettit won one game.
More recent bonuses paid to Latin players indicate that it`s a crapshoot.
Some like Miguel Tejada pan out; others don`t.
Nearly ten years ago, when the diversity craze was just taking off, the Yankees gave outfielder Wily Mo Peña a $2.44 million bonus and seven years ago the Dodgers gave infielder Joel Guzman $2.25 million. Both disappointed.
And, as any knowledgeable source will tell you about Inoa, a good fastball may be enough to win in the bushes. But it means nothing in the big leagues.
Here`s what pitching great Sal Maglie had to say:
"With nothing but a real good fastball, a pitcher can be a winner in high school and college, on the sandlots and even in the minor leagues. But no one—not even a Herb Score or Bob Feller—can consistently throw the ball past major league hitters. The guys you run into here are just too good for that." [Sal Maglie on the Art of Pitching, by Roy Terrell, Sports Illustrated, March 17, 1958]
(Aside for serious baseball fans: Maglie pitched brilliantly for the pennant winning New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees, one of few players on all three 1950s New York championship teams)
Time will tell about Inoa.
Meanwhile, fans are left to wonder if foreign-born players aren`t a zero sum game, wherein many are signed—regardless of their skills or lack of them—for the sake of diversity alone; or to cater to the special needs of immigrant players already on the squad.
After my last column Mike Corsano, a Met fan of 40 years, wrote me to share his agony over his then-floundering but now resurgent team widely referred to as Los Mets:
"As a lifelong baseball fanatic, I have watched the problems caused by diversity.
"Los Mets are the perfect example. The team is rife with ethnic cliques and sub-cliques. The Mets signed second baseman Luis Castillo to a ridiculous 4-year contract to entice his Minnesota Twin teammate Johan Santana to eventually join him.
"Puerto Ricans Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado are aloof from the rest of the team. One of the worst problems with the Latin players is that they use the `I don`t speak English excuse` to avoid talking to the media after loss after loss created by uninspired and disappointing play for over a year including the historic September 2007 collapse.
"Limited English is symptomatic of the nation`s problem. When there were only two or three Latin players on a team, they were forced to learn English and assimilate. Now with half the team speaking Spanish, they form their own enclaves within the team.
"Here`s one last example of the Mets` ruination. In 2006, Dominican general manager Omar Minaya signed fellow Dominican Julio Franco to a two-year contract ignoring the fact he was 48 (yes, 48) years old. At the time Minaya claimed Franco would be a good influence on the younger Latin players. He was kept around way after it was obvious that his usefulness as a productive player was long gone."
In short, the Mets need the one Latin guy—Castillo—to lure the other Latin guy—Santana. And the team also needs a third Latin player—Franco, ancient though he is—to coddle still other Latinos.
That`s baseball`s version of chain migration.
Continuing with my zero sum theory, look at pitchers from the Far East. Here are three—one good, one average and one ugly: Japan`s Daisuke Matsuzaka, a slightly above average Boston Red Sox pitcher, Kei Igawa, a $20 million total bust signed by the Yankees because the Red Sox outbid them for Matsuzaka and Chien-Ming Wang, a Taiwanese Yankee who won nineteen games in 2006 and 2007 but is now on the disabled list because he cannot run the bases.
What baseball fans get is a mixed bag of foreign-born players that don`t necessarily perform better than the home-grown American version. Certain fans—those who root for New York`s Mets and Yankees and the Seattle Mariners have to grin and bear it.
Duchscherer (South Dakota) is a good example. Selected to the All-Star team, he`s leading the majors in individual ERA with 1.78, half a run lower than any other pitcher.
But few outside of the Bay Area know much about him. Who, on the other hand, doesn`t know about Dice-K?
But the owners love diversity-driven baseball. And why wouldn`t they? Since the stateside arrival of famous Japanese players, sales of MLB licensed merchandise in Japan increased from $36.6 to $103.7 million. And the league signed a six-year, $235 million television deal with a corporate Japanese media giant.
Once the cash register starts to ring, whether the American fan wants more homegrown players simply doesn`t matter.
What counts is which owner can make the most hundreds of millions.
And if that means more immigrant players, then that`s the way it will be—until Americans take steps to reclaim their national pastime.
Joe Guzzardi [e-mail him] is the Editor of VDARE.COM Letters to the Editor. In addition, he is an English teacher at the Lodi Adult School and has been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1988. This column is exclusive to VDARE.COM.