Analysis

A Look at Baseball’s “One-Player Wonder” Nations

In the last few decades, the complexion of Major League Baseball has changed at an astounding rate, thanks to an influx of international players, more than have ever before, representing a variety of different nations.

While the majority remain Americans, MLB players have come by the dozens from countries such as the Dominican Republic (746 players all-time), Venezuela (402), and Canada (253). But on the other end of the quantitative spectrum, there are a slew of countries that have produced just one MLB player in their existence. These nations run the gamut of continents, levels of development, and baseball skill.

Here are the varied stories of these nations and the solitary players that have represented them throughout baseball’s annals. Each nation’s current rank in the World Baseball and Softball Confederation’s rankings is given in parentheses.

AFGHANISTAN (NR): JEFF BRONKEY, RELIEF PITCHER, 1993-95

In Afghanistan, cricket is king: the national team is participating in the Cricket World Cup this very month. But amidst generations of cricketers, the country did produce one pitcher: Bronkey, born to an American mother and an Afghan father, saw action for Texas and Milwaukee out of the bullpen in the early 90s.

AMERICAN SAMOA (75): TONY SOLAITA, FIRST BASEMAN, 1968-79

A native Samoan who was was a terrific power hitter in Japan and met a tragic end at a fairly young age (he was 43 when he was murdered in a property dispute), Solaita amassed 336 hits with the Yankees, Royals, Angels, Expos and Blue Jays.

BELGIUM (30): BRIAN LESHER, LEFT FIELDER, 1996-2002

Belgium is a (relatively) solid baseball nation, frequenting the European Baseball Championship. Their only MLBer is Lesher, who graced three teams around the turn of the century. His batting average in a brief stint with the Mariners was an otherworldly .800 (4 for 5 in six games).

BELIZE (NR): CHITO MARTINEZ, RIGHT FIELDER, 1991-1993

Born in Belize’s largest city, Belize City, Martinez played parts of three seasons with the Orioles, posting 13 home runs in 67 games in his rookie year.

CHINA (20): HARRY KINGMAN, FIRST BASEMAN, 1914

Kingman, a child of missionaries, was born in Tianjin in 1892. His cameo with the Yankees was brief (0-for-4 in three games), but he holds a unique place in baseball lore as the sole player in history to have been born in the largest nation on Earth.

DENMARK (NR): OLAF HENRIKSEN, OUTFIELDER, 1911-1917

Henriksen emigrated from Zealand to Massachusetts and became a solid cog on three World Series-winning Red Sox teams, also putting up a .366/.449/.409 line in his 27-game rookie season. In a characteristic early-20th-century nickname laced with both irony and ignorance, Henriksen was frequently referred to as “Swede.”

FINLAND (57): JOHN MICHAELSON, PITCHER, 1921

Finland, a nation with its own brand of baseball (Finnish baseball) that would look completely foreign to fans of the national pastime, has produced just one player, Michaelson, who made a pair of relief appearances for the White Sox during the 1921 season.

GREECE (47): AL CAMPANIS, SECOND BASEMAN, 1943

Much better known for peddling bizarre pseudoscience about black players and managers on a 1987 episode of Nightline on ABC, Campanis was actually not born in Greece per se, but in the Dodecanese Islands during World War I, at the time a part of Italy. Regardless, he grew up speaking Greek, and became MLB’s only Hellenic player in a seven-game sojourn with the Dodgers during World War II.

HONDURAS (54): GERALD YOUNG, CENTERFIELDER, 1987-1994

Alone in a Wikipedia category of one – “Major League Baseball players from Honduras” – Young was a solid presence on the Astros of the late 80s and early 90s. He finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting in 1987 after hitting .321 in 71 games.

HONG KONG (28): AUSTIN BRICE, PITCHER, 2016-present

Born to American expatriates, Brice is unique from many of the One-Nation Wonders in that he is currently active, currently residing in the Marlins’ bullpen. He has a 2.82 earned run average through 22.1 innings pitched this season.

INDONESIA (31): TOM MASTNY, PITCHER, 2006-2008

Mastny was a steadying bullpen presence on the Indians’ 2007 team that reached the ALCS. He doubles as the only MLB player born in the East Indies, although he was raised in Indiana. The discrepancy between “Indiana” and “Indonesia” was a minor news story in 2006, when it was confirmed that he was in fact born in the latter and raised in the former.

LATVIA (76): JOE ZAPUSTAS, OUTFIELDER, 1933

Like Campanis, there is a caveat to Zapustas’ heritage: Latvia was part of the Russian Empire when he was born in 1907. As for his playing career, it was brief, as he rapped a solitary single in five at-bats for the Athletics, going on to become a respected boxing referee after his baseball career’s end.

LITHUANIA (37): DOVYDAS NEVERAUSKAS, PITCHER, 2017-present

Many of the players on this list are expatriates; Neverauskas, however, was born and raised in Lithuania, encouraged by his father to pursue a game that has no fields in his home country. Neverauskas found his calling and has pitched out of the bullpen for the Pirates each of the past three years.

PHILIPPINES (33): BOBBY CHOUINARD, PITCHER, 1996-2001

Chouinard, born in Manila, had a troubled career, finding a niche as a decent reliever for the expansion Diamondbacks but being involved in a serious domestic violence incident that forced him into prison for a time.

PORTUGAL (NR): FRANK THOMPSON, CATCHER, 1875

Thompson was born in Madeira, a chain of islands governed by Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean off the Moroccan coast. He played just twelve games, hitting .130 with the Brooklyn Atlantics and Washington Nationals.

SINGAPORE (68): ROBIN JENNINGS, RIGHT FIELDER, 1996-2001

Born in Singapore but having matriculated in Virginia and Florida, Jennings played for three different teams during the 2001 season, accumulating at-bats for Oakland, Colorado, and Cincinnati. He somehow managed to hit a respectable .275 that year.

SOUTH AFRICA (23): GIFT NGOEPE, INFIELDER, 2017-2018

Sports Illustrated labeled him “A Gift from Africa,” as he became the first black African to sign a professional baseball contract in the United States. He made it to the Major Leagues and notched a hit off of Jon Lester in his 2017 debut, and in 2018 played for the Blue Jays.

SWITZERLAND (49): OTTO HESS, PITCHER/OUTFIELDER, 1902-1915

In contrast to a number of players on this list whose stays in the big leagues were brief and unmemorable, Hess was a great pitcher who won 20 games for the Indians and was an essential member of the Miracle Braves that went from worst to first within a season in 1914 en route to a World Series title. He was born in 1878 in Bern, Switzerland’s capital.

VIETNAM (NR): DANNY GRAVES, PITCHER, 1996-2006

We’ve saved arguably the most remarkable story for last: Graves was born to a Vietnamese mother and an American father during the Vietnam War. The family fled Saigon shortly before it fell. Graves, who was raised bilingual, went on to forge a strong career as a reliever for three teams, making two All-Star Games with the Reds.

Featured Photo: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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Patrick Andres

Patrick Andres is a high school senior at Northview High School in Sylvania, Ohio. He is the sports editor of his school's newspaper and a contributor to his community newspaper. You can follow him for baseball news on Twitter @pandres2001, as well as news and analysis of every other sport under the sun.

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