In 1884, a 19-year old rookie named Joe Quinn made history when he took the field for the St. Louis Maroons. Quinn was born in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia and his debut marked the first time in the history of Major League Baseball that a player born in Australia played a big league game. Quinn would play 17 seasons in the Major Leagues, passing through Boston with the Beaneaters, the St. Louis Browns, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Spiders, St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds before finishing up his career with the Washington Senators in 1901. Quinn was a career .262 hitter with 30 home runs and 268 stolen bases. While his numbers are not eye-popping, he was the first member of a fraternity that is still few and far between.
Since Quinn’s historic appearance, just 27 other Australian-born players have donned a big league uniform. With baseball’s new effort towards growing the game internationally, there has been special interest in Australia. MLB Network broadcasts Australian League games during the off-season, and for the past few seasons the first regular season game has been played on the historic Sydney Cricket Ground. If the new effort will bear fruit, is yet to be determined, but that has not stopped teams from scouring the vastly untapped continent for a special talent. That is what the New York Yankees found in young pitcher Brandon Stenhouse when they signed him to a six-figure deal in January of 2014. At the time he was just 17, and content on finishing school before heading to the United States to begin his professional career. Today, Stenhouse is 19, with one year minor league season under his belt. I was lucky enough to sit down with the young hurler and discuss the state of Australian baseball as well his own personal career.
Matt Mirro: Obviously, baseball is a huge part of the culture here in America. How would you describe the baseball “scene” in Australia growing up?
Brandon Stenhouse: A small community of people, but I’ve seen it grow as I’ve progressed in the game.
MM: Did you have a favorite team and/or player while growing up?
BS: Roy Halladay!
MM: Can you describe the whole experience of being courted by a franchise like the New York Yankees?
BS: Just surreal and a massive opportunity
MM: Often, baseball is played in different fashions from country to country. Some leagues are more hitter-friendly, while others are more pitcher-oriented. Since you began your pro career, do you notice a difference between the U.S. style and the Australian style?
Stenhouse: I’ve found there is really no difference apart from the ability of the players
MM: Was baseball your first sport or were there other sports that you enjoyed more when you were younger?
BS: I started playing baseball when I was four years old, and that’s the only sport I have played since
MM: In America we have a ton of youth leagues from little league ball to school teams and nationwide legion ball. What type of outlets are there for young ballplayers back home?
BS: Mostly club baseball as well as state and national academies
MM: Currently, there are only four active players from Australia; Grant Balfour (Free Agent), Peter Moylan (Atlanta Braves), Travis Blackely (Free Agent) and Liam Hendriks (Toronto Blue Jays). Do you feel it is important for young up and comers like yourself to help represent your country out there on the field?
BS: It’s always important to represent where you came from to help make a presence for your country within the baseball world.
MM: Was coming over to the United States a tough transition for you?
BS: I felt very welcomed by everyone, so I found it easy.
MM: As baseball becomes more and more of a world sport, we see the league make a push to grow the game overseas. What is something you’d like to see done in order to really build up down the interest in baseball back in Australia?
BS: More of a presence from Major League Baseball.
I found Stenhouse’s statement on baseball being his only sport quite interesting. Australia plays host to a multitude of popular sports including rugby and tennis as well as baseball’s ancestor, cricket.
Before becoming owner and general manager of the Sydney Blue Sox, the late David Balfour, father of Grant Balfour, was a star rugby player. He is credited with much of baseball’s popularity in modern day Australia. The 37-year old Balfour spent 12 seasons in the Major Leagues, compiling 84 saves, and 571 strikeouts. He spent his most successful years with the Oakland Athletics (2011-2013) where he earned a reputation as both a lock down closer and a fearsome competitor. He was inducted into Australia’s Hall of Fame in 2015, an early induction so that his father could see the ceremony before sadly passing away from cancer at the age of 62.
Another more famous Australian pitcher was Graeme Lloyd, who was a big league reliever for 10 years (1993-2003). LLoyd’s best seasons would unfold in Yankee pinstripes. After being acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers midway through the 1996 season, he would pitch poorly down the stretch before helping the Yankees to a World Series victory. The LOOGY (Lefty One Out Guy) would put up a stellar year in 1998 (1.67 ERA) and secure his second and final World Series championship.
He was later traded by the Yankees to the Toronto Blue Jays in the trade that brought Roger Clemens to the Bronx. LLoyd was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2013 and is currently serving as the pitching coach for the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League.
It is not surprising to see baseball trying to build a presence in Australia. and it is very cool to be see teams serious about adding young assets from a relatively unexplored area. After all, baseball knew the name Joe Quinn long before anyone heard the name Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth. Young men like Stenhouse and those who follow him, will represent the product of baseball’s work.