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Report: Measuring the impact of Major League Baseball’s immigrant players

September 5, 2017   /   by Buzz McClain

A report from the Institute for Immigration Research at George Mason University measures the impact of immigration on Major League Baseball teams and the $8.4 billion a year sport in general. The report illustrates how changes in professional sports mirror—and foreshadow—the broader impact of demographic change and increasing globalization. 

“Over time, politics, law, immigration and economics have played a role in the MLB and have shaped the game,” said Marissa Kiss, an IIR graduate research assistant who helped compile the report. “Foreign-born MLB players not only add expertise, skill and knowledge to the game, but they play a major role in the success of America’s national pastime.”

George Mason sociology professor James Witte, director of the institute, said the impact goes beyond the numbers, and beyond baseball.

“As demographics have changed the face of America, the demographics of professional sports in American have changed as well,” he said. “Similarly, as globalization increasingly has transformed the U.S. economy, so too has it transformed the business of professional sports.”

Witte and Kiss examined the immigrant makeup of both divisions of the Major League, the 2017 All-Star Game and the division-leading Washington Nationals.

  • The Top 5 teams with the smallest proportion of foreign-born players are in the National League. The Nationals will play 142 of their 162 regular season games against National League opponents, so Nationals’ fans are less likely to see non-white and foreign-born players in both the visiting and home team dugouts than fans in American League cities. 
  • In 2015, foreign-born individuals living in the United States comprised 13.4 percent of the U.S. population; 25.4 percent of MLB players were foreign-born.
  • Four of the top five teams with the most non-Hispanic white players are in the National League: San Francisco Giants, 81.3 percent; Colorado Rockies, 75.0 percent; Cincinnati Reds, 74.2 percent; and the Washington Nationals, 72.4 percent.
  • In the National League, 27.1 percent of the players are foreign-born. In the American League, the number is 27.4 percent.

In the 2017 MLB All-Star Game played in July, seven of the 10 offensive hits by the winning American League team were made by foreign-born players, including Robinson Canó’s game-winning home run at the top of the 10th inning. The National League’s one earned run was a solo home run by Yadier Molina. (The final score was 2-1.)

“If I were a gambler,” said Kiss, “next year I would put my money on the All-Star team with the greatest percentage of foreign-born All-Star starters.”

Read the full report here.