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March 21, 2013

Skewed Left

The WBC and Dominican Demographics

by Zachary Levine

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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.

  1. Japan, where the semifinal loss at what was hardly prime time siphoned a 51 TV rating.
  2. Puerto Rico, which just produced the no. 1 overall pick in the draft and, for all its baseball crisis of the past two decades, still outpaces the mainland’s rate of producing big leaguers per capita by 25 percent. Oh, and also had a 74 TV share for the end of the semifinal.
  3. The Dominican Republic, which absolutely clobbers the United States in big leaguers per capita by a factor of almost exactly five.

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.

Rank

State

MLBers

Per 1,000,000

1

Nevada

9

9.83

2

Florida

95

8.59

3

California

201

7.8

4

Texas

105

6.53

5

Georgia

34

5.82

6

Mississippi

15

5.77

7

South Dakota

4

5.67

8

Nebraska

9

5.61

9

Arizona

16

5.24

10

Puerto Rico

17

5.2

11

Idaho

5

5

12

Kentucky

18

4.84

13

Hawaii

5

4.83

14

D.C.

3

4.81

15

Missouri

24

4.8

16

Alabama

19

4.76

17

Tennessee

20

4.23

18

Rhode Island

4

4.17

19

New Hampshire

4

4.09

20

Alaska

2

3.96

21

Oklahoma

13

3.91

22

Wyoming

2

3.9

23

Louisiana

17

3.81

24

Connecticut

12

3.8

25

North Carolina

22

3.57

26

Indiana

19

3.46

27

Maine

4

3.46

28

Washington

15

3.45

29

Arkansas

8

3.41

30

Oregon

9

3.36

31

Kansas

7

2.87

32

Virginia

16

2.84

33

Colorado

9

2.82

34

New Mexico

4

2.81

35

Illinois

32

2.78

36

South Carolina

9

2.73

37

Maryland

11

2.53

38

New Jersey

19

2.53

39

Montana

2

2.43

40

Minnesota

9

2.16

41

Iowa

6

2.07

42

Pennsylvania

24

2.02

43

Ohio

21

1.95

44

Vermont

1

1.88

45

Michigan

15

1.66

46

Delaware

1

1.62

47

North Dakota

1

1.46

48

Massachusetts

8

1.38

49

New York

21

1.18

50

Wisconsin

5

1.05

51

Utah

1

0.62

52

West Virginia

1

0.51

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)

Zachary Levine is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Zachary's other articles. You can contact Zachary by clicking here

Related Content:  WBC,  World Baseball Classic

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