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Classic underscores global roots of MLB

March 15, 2017

When it comes to the World Baseball Classic, it is vogue to root for the underdogs, who are, after all, the hope of the Classic. It's about building interest on an international level. And that means making inroads into areas where baseball has been an afterthought.That's why it was so

When it comes to the World Baseball Classic, it is vogue to root for the underdogs, who are, after all, the hope of the Classic. It's about building interest on an international level. And that means making inroads into areas where baseball has been an afterthought.
That's why it was so encouraging to see Israel go undefeated in the opening round, although its Cinderella dreams turned into a pumpkin in the second round. It's why the Netherlands advancing to the final four a year ago and repeating the feat -- with loftier goals -- in this installment is cause for inspiration.
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
Consider, there has never even been a Major League Player who was born in Israel. At the other extreme is the United States, where baseball is the national pastime.
And then there are the 14 other countries who have been a part of this year's Classic, each with their own unique history of big leaguers:
• The Dominican Republic has produced more big league players (669) than any place other than the United States, and had 130 appear in big league games last year. The Dominican also has produced two of the 11 non-U.S.-born Hall of Famers -- pitchers Juan Marichal (inducted 1983) and Pedro Martinez (2015). At least four more are on the horizon: Vladimir Guerrero, David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre and Jose Pujols. Pujols already has hit more home runs than any Dominican (591), and his 1,817 RBIs are just 14 shy of the Dominican record held by Manny Ramirez.
Venezuela has produced 358 big league players, including 102 who were active last year. Known for shortstops -- including the likes of Luis Aparicio, Ozzie Guillen and Omar Vizquel -- the country has shown some thunder, too. Jose Cabrera of the Tigers, who turns 34 on April 18, already holds the Venezuelan record with 446 home runs and 1,553 RBIs. He's an 11-time All-Star. Felix Hernandez of the Mariners has become the country's top big league pitcher. His 154 wins are just two wins shy of the Venezuelan record set by Freddy Garcia, and his 3.16 ERA is nearly a run lower than Garcia's 4.15.
Puerto Rico has produced 257 big league players, 26 of whom appeared in the big leagues last year. Roberto Clemente became the first player born outside of the continental United States to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973. He has since been joined by Orlando Cepeda (1999), Roberto Alomar (2011) and Ivan Rodriguez, who will be inducted this year. Javier Vazquez is the winningest pitcher from Puerto Rico (165-160).

Canada has produced 246 big league players, 13 of whom played in the big leagues last year. Ferguson Jenkins became the first Canadian inducted to the Hall of Fame. His 284 wins are 152 more than Ryan Dempster, who ranks second among Canadians. Larry Walker is the most dynamic Canadian to play in the big leagues, not only compiling a .313 career batting average, but hitting 383 home runs with 471 doubles, 1,311 RBIs and 230 stolen bases. No other player in Major League history has a .310 batting average, 1,300 RBIs, 470 doubles and 200 stolen bases. He also won seven Gold Gloves and won the National League MVP Award in 1997.
Cuba has produced 199 big league players, including 29 who appeared last season. The production of players, however, has been limited because of the relations between Cuba and the United States. Tony Perez, however, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000.
Mexico has produced 121 big league players, including 14 who appeared in the big leagues last year, but there is a catch. Mexico has its own professional leagues in the summer and winter, and until the arrival of Fernando Valenzuela, the players from Mexico were leery about coming to the United States and playing at the Minor League level. The greatest Mexican player in history, Hector Espino, played only 32 Minor League games in the United States. Espino hit a Mexican-record 484 home runs in his career, all but three in Mexico. Those came when he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals late in the 1964 season and played 32 games for Triple-A Jacksonville, where he hit .300 but afterward announced he would never leave his native Mexico again.

Japan has such a strong professional system itself, and while 63 Japanese-born players have appeared in the big leagues -- including nine last year -- 59 of those players have arrived in the big leagues since 1995, when Hideo Nomo became a sensation with the Dodgers. The first Japanese big leaguer was pitcher Masanori Murakami with the Giants in 1964.
Australia has produced 30 big league players, including four who appeared last year -- first baseman James Beresford of the Twins, and pitchers Liam Hendriks, Peter Moylan and Warwick Saupold.
Korea has had 22 big leaguers, including nine who played last year. Among them is Shin-Soo Choo, who has hit .280 with 146 home runs and 566 RBIs in the big leagues. Chan Ho Park, who was 124-98, became the first Korean big leaguer in 1994.
Colombia has produced 20 big league players, six of whom were in the big leagues last year, including top-line starting pitchers Julio Teheran (47-40, 3.39 ERA) and Jose Quintana (46-46, 3.41 ERA). Edgar Renteria, the manager of Colombia's Classic team, hit .286 in his big league career with 140 home runs and 923 RBIs. In 1974, shortstop Orlando Ramirez with the Angels became the first native of Colombia to appear in the big leagues since 1902.

The Netherlands has had 12 big league players, including Didi Gregorius, a career .260 hitter currently with the Yankees, and Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven.
Chinese Taipei has had 11 players appear in the big leagues, including three last season. Chin-Feng Chen was the first to make it to the Major Leagues with the Dodgers in 2002. He had 25 plate appearances spread over four seasons.
Italy has had seven players appear in the big leagues, but none since Reno Bertoia, who hit .244 from 1953-62 when he spent time with the Tigers, Senators, Twins and Athletics.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for