Foreign players in the big leagues have always fascinated me. This is nothing strange, I am Dutch and have always lived in The Netherlands, I am a baseball foreigner myself. The Dutch like to believe that they are the biggest baseball nation in Europe and they have a point. We have had Bert Blyleven, Andruw Jones and Hensley Meulens. We now have Andrelton Simmons, Didi Gregorius, Kenley Jansen and Xander Bogaerts. It doesn’t matter that only two of them, Blyleven and Gregorius, were actually born in The Netherlands, no other European country can come up with a similar list of top players. Right? Wrong!
Let’s talk about Germany as a baseball nation. A nation that in the coming week will try to qualify for the World Baseball Classic for the first time in history. To get to the group stage of the WBC 2017, they will have to survive the qualifier 2 in Mexicali, where they will have to eliminate host nation and three-time WBC participant Mexico. That is, if they get past Nicaragua in the preliminaries. The Nicaraguans have fifteen current and former MLB-affiliated players on their roster. The Germans have six, four of them so little known that nobody even bothered to set up a Wikipedia profile for them.
The chances of the Germans making the WBC 2017 are less than 25 percent. Even in a qualifier tournament with only four participating teams. Not once in the entire history of baseball has a German national team or club team won an international league or tournament.
It makes it all the more strange when you notice a big German influence on MLB when you take a closer look at the history of the sport.
Let’s say it’s 1926 and the World Baseball Classic already exists. Honus Wagner is named manager of the German national team. He is a son of German parents and by the rules of WBC he can now form a line-up out of the following players: Ray Schalk (catcher, Chicago White Sox), Oscar Roettger (pitcher, New York Yankees/Brooklyn Robins), Lou Gehrig (1B, New York Yankees), Charlie Gehringer (2B, Detroit Tigers), Heinie Schuble (SS, St. Louis Cardinals), Heinie Groh (3B, New York Giants), Chuck Klein (RF, Philadelphia Phillies), Babe Ruth (CF, New York Yankees) and Heini Manush (LF, Detroit Tigers, AL Batting Champion of 1926). Not bad for a possible line-up, is it?
The German influence on MLB did not stop there. Since 1926 World Series winners such as Bill Zuber and Red Schoendienst, Hall of Famers such as Duke Snider and Warren Spahn, team owners such as Hal Steinbrenner and even MLB commissioners such as Peter Ueberoth and Bowie Kuhn were all of German ancestry and made their mark on the sport. Germany truly is the greatest baseball nation that never was.