Cunningham: Why Puerto Rico has such an oversized impact on Major League Baseball

From Sean Cunningham at Real Clear Life on October 6, 2017, with mention of SABR members Edwin Fernandez and Thomas Van Hyning:

Carlos Correa, the 2017 All-Star shortstop from the AL West champion Houston Astros, started wearing cleats with the Puerto Rican flag as Hurricane Maria approached his home. (He has since discussed his fears for Puerto Rico and his grandparents in particular: “My grandpa has Alzheimer’s, so it’s pretty tough to move around with him.”) His teammate Carlos Beltrán, 1999 AL Rookie of the Year and 2013 Roberto Clemente Award winner, pledged a million dollars to charities rebuilding post-Maria, proclaiming, “Puerto Rico, I love you. I know we will rise up.”

Indeed, Puerto Rican players from all across the majors have been responding to Hurricane Maria. It’s a reminder that Puerto Rico has a shockingly large baseball legacy for an island with less than 3.5 million people: to put this in perspective, that’s less than a third of the population of Cuba or the Dominican Republic. Puerto Rico has twice been runner-up at the World Baseball Classic. (In 2017, they lost in the final to the U.S., but just getting there is remarkable considering they have fewer residents than Connecticut.) They are aided by an incredible fan base: here they are celebrating a WBC victory over Team Italy, not exactly a traditional rival.

With the MLB postseason beginning, it seemed the perfect time to pay tribute to the place that has produced so many stars and champions. Edwin Fernández, co-editor of Puerto Rico and Baseball: 60 Biographies, agreed to help, which was particularly generous because he’s in San Juan. (While noting, “I am ok,” he also revealed there was, “No electricity, no internet, no cable TV.”)

“Even before there was professional baseball in PR, there were great ball players that emerged,” Fernández observed, as Puerto Ricans “played many games played against excellent teams from the USA, including from the Negro Leagues.” (He said they also got experience against MLB teams such as “Cincinnati in 1936.”)

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Originally published: October 6, 2017. Last Updated: October 6, 2017.