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The history of baseball in the Dominican Republic

February 22, 2023

A previous version of this story ran in March 2023.

As the Rays and Red Sox prepare to face off in the Dominican Series in Santo Domingo this year, it's a good time to remember how the country’s undeniable impact on the game’s present is the continuation of a rich tradition that took root in the late 1800s.

Baseball was introduced to the Dominican Republic in the second half of the 19th century by visitors and expats from Cuba. The first recorded game took place on Sept. 25, 1886, in San Pedro de Macorís between two Cuban teams, Santiago de Cuba and Angelina. Four years later, a professional circuit was established with the local teams Ozama and Nuevo Club.

As the game gained popularity in the first part of the 20th century, the country’s most famous professional team to this day, Tigres del Licey, was founded in 1907. To combat the Tigres’ dominance in the following years, a conglomerate of other clubs merged to form Leones del Escogido, with “Escogido” meaning “chosen,” or those players chosen to form the new team.

Professional baseball was played, mostly in summer months, in the 1920s and '30s in loosely organized leagues. It wasn’t until 1955, with its official naming and switch to fall/winter schedules, that the Dominican League now known as LIDOM was established in its current form.

Total Major Leaguers all time: 895

WBSC ranking: 9th

Last World Baseball Classic appearance: 2023

Best WBC finish: 2013, undefeated champions

Professional League: Liga de Béisbol Profesional de la República Dominicana (LIDOM)

At the same time, scouting in the country had begun to grow. After the debut of the first Dominican player in Major League Baseball, Osvaldo Virgil Sr., in 1956 -- after his stint residing and attending school in New York -- notable players such as Juan Marichal and the Rojas Alou brothers Felipe, Jesús and Mateo were scouted and signed directly out of the Dominican Republic.

The Rojas Alou brothers: Jesús, Mateo (Matty) and Felipe (

The aforementioned names are just five of the 895 Dominican-born players who have participated in Major League Baseball, the most born outside the United States. There were 99 Dominican-born players on Opening Day rosters in 2022, the 18th consecutive year that the D.R. has been the leader in producing MLB players born outside of the U.S. since the data was first officially tracked in 1995.

History In the World Baseball Classic

The Dominican Republic has had its ups and downs in the WBC. After reaching the semifinals in the inaugural tournament in 2006, it suffered a shocking first-round elimination in 2009 in Puerto Rico at the hands of the Netherlands, which won both its contests against the club managed by Felipe Rojas Alou.

Four years later, however, it all came together for the Dominican squad managed by Tony Peña. With tournament MVP Robinson Canó leading the offense and Fernando Rodney going 7-for-7 in save opportunities, the D.R. was a perfect 8-0 and won the crown with a 3-0 victory over Puerto Rico in the championship game in San Francisco.

In the 2017 tournament, with Peña once again at the helm, the Dominican Republic was eliminated in Group F of the second round in San Diego with losses to Puerto Rico and the United States.

Despite high expectations in last year's tournament, with a lineup that was considered one of the best in the WBC, the team failed to get out of the group stage, going 2-2 and finishing behind Venezuela and Puerto Rico.

Major League impact today

The current crop of Dominican-born Major Leaguers is rich in talent, with Juan Soto, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Rafael Devers, Sandy Alcantara, José Ramírez, Julio Rodríguez and Emmanuel Clase among the country’s brightest stars on baseball’s biggest stages. Albert Pujols, one of the best Dominican-born players in history, retired after the 2022 season. In six years, he will likely join Adrián Beltré in Cooperstown, with the former third baseman earning election to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot this winter.

The D.R. in Cooperstown

There are currently four Dominican-born players with plaques in the National Baseball Hall of Fame: Marichal, Pedro Martínez, Vladimir Guerrero Sr. and David Ortiz. Marichal was inducted in 1983, and there was a 32-year gap between his entering Cooperstown and Martínez’s election in 2015. After Beltré gets his plaque this summer, Pujols is a good bet to be inducted within the next decade.

Hall of Fame acceptance speech by David Ortiz in 2022

Memorable moments In D.R. baseball history

Dominican-born players have won a total of seven MVPs and four Cy Young Awards, but the first ones -- George Bell in 1987 with the Blue Jays and Martínez in 1997 with the Expos, respectively -- were watershed moments for Dominican baseball and the country’s fanbase.

In October of 1982, Joaquín Andújar won Game 7 of the World Series for the Cardinals over the Brewers, one of two wins for the right-hander in the Fall Classic vs. Milwaukee.

In the summers of 1998 and '99, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire captivated the baseball world -- and of course, the avid fanbase in the Dominican Republic -- with their epic home run races, the first of which resulted in McGwire breaking Roger Maris’ single-season record of 61 round-trippers. In ’98, McGwire prevailed over Sosa, 70 home runs to 66, as well as in ’99, 65 to 63.

Five years later, Martínez, Ortiz and series MVP Manny Ramírez helped the Red Sox end an 86-year championship drought with its win over the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series.

On Dominican soil, the exhibition series between the Expos and Mets in March 1999 was a homecoming at Estadio Quisqueya for Montreal manager Felipe Rojas Alou, the first ever Dominican-born skipper in Major League history. A year later, Martínez -- coming off the second of his three Cy Young Awards -- was the major attraction for the Spring Training series between the Red Sox and Astros.

In addition to the unbeaten 2013 Dominican squad in the WBC, the D.R. has distinguished itself with undefeated championship teams in the Caribbean Series -- the annual tournament of winter ball champions -- in 1977, 1991, 1998 and 2021.

Rich tradition of winter baseball

The Dominican Winter League (LIDOM) is traditionally considered one of the toughest in Latin America. It has six teams: Tigres del Licey, Leones del Escogido, Águilas Cibaeñas, Estrellas Orientales, Toros del Este and Gigantes del Cibao.

Tigres and Leones represent the capital city of Santo Domingo and share Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal. The Estrellas and Toros are based in the eastern cities of San Pedro de Macorís and La Romana, respectively, while the Águilas and Gigantes call the Cibao region cities of Santiago and San Francisco de Macorís home.

Licey is the all-time leader in local championships with 24, and is also the club with the most Caribbean Series crowns with 11. Overall, teams representing the Dominican Republic have taken home the most Caribbean Series titles, 22.