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March 21, 2013
The WBC and Dominican Demographics
One of the most stunning parts about following the World Baseball Classic as a social- and other-media-connected human being was seeing how many other Americans paying attention were rooting—strongly or mostly more casually—against the United States. Part of that is probably my own state of watching sports after five years as a writer, so let me explain briefly.
It didn’t take long to stop rooting for sports teams once I started covering professional baseball. Sure, I rooted for good stories, and on plenty of occasions when there were day games looming or beers to be drunk, rooted for short games. And I occasionally found myself rooting for people, though I tried my hardest not to let that interfere with my work and believe I succeeded at that while on the beat.
Yet this left a void; after all, rooting for teams is a lot of fun. Look at this guy. He’s having fun. So I figured the only exceptions in which I could really root were teams with which I had a connection, not just those in from all over in a city where I happen to live. So it was alma mater and country. It’s why even though soccer is far from my favorite sport, the U.S. national team is probably the team I root for the most.
Anyway, much of what I saw of Americans rooting against the United States came with two motives. The first was that our fans weren’t the passionate ones, so let somebody else enjoy this. Like this guy. That all makes sense in an altruistic way, but if that’s the case, we’d all root for the Yankees to win the World Series every year because that would make the most people happy, right?
The second reason I heard pointed to the root of the whole tournament: that the goal of the WBC was to spread the game to countries where it was not being either played, watched, or otherwise appreciated. That’s certainly the intent of the tournament, but it’s unclear how having the United States lose would further that goal.
It would be one thing if the Americans’ going down cleared the way for Romania or Uzbekistan or Uganda or even China—the world’s largest country, which made an early exit from the competition.
But with the United States losing, barring a Dutch surprise—or make that a surprise from a team mostly taken from the baseball-rich island of Curacao—the winner was going to be one of three.
Which country needs baseball spread to it again, those or the one where the tournament is on second-tier cable?
That’s just a rhetorical question to make a point, though. The real answer is probably none of them. Baseball is fine.
It’s played fine in the countries where fans chant and play instruments the whole game and where players shoot arrows and climb out of the dugout on home runs. And yes, despite the angst this week in the wake of the US team’s dismissal, it’s fine here too.
Still, I just keep going back to those numbers, because I find them fascinating.
Jeff Passan had some of the stats in his column Wednesday about the Dominican Republic taking over baseball. The Dominican, population roughly 10 million, produced 128 of the 1,284 players to suit up for MLB teams in 2012. It’s a nation smaller in population than Los Angeles County. It has one third as many people as the number of Americans with Penicillin allergies. Yet three whole teams’ worth of big leaguers.
On a per capita basis, it’s already taken over.
Since the average age of ballplayers last year was 28, all the per capita numbers that follow use 1984 populations, which is imperfect but gives a good idea of where players are coming from.
The Dominican produced 19.78 major leaguers per 1,000,000 residents last year, while the U.S. states and Washington D.C. produced 3.96 per 1,000,000. Puerto Rico checked in at 5.2—a figure that’s down but still shows how much the island loves baseball even after its amateurs became subject to the draft.
That DR figure was more than twice even our most dedicated baseballing states.
It’s funny to talk about having to grow the game in New York, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin, which are home to two enormous and despised fanbases and also the most underrated fanbase. And also the Mets.
Yet it’s also silly to talk about having to spread the game to these places where baseball is alive and extremely healthy with or without the Classic. The game, specifically the international game, doesn’t have to be grown in most of America’s rivals.
Sources: Baseball-Reference.com Play Index, U.S. Census, NationMaster.com (for D.R. data)