By Ernie Williamson The Bulletin
It is no secret to us sports fans that the rosters of our pro sports teams are filling up with foreign-born players.
I am writing about this not because I think this invasion is a bad thing, but out of amazement how quickly foreign players and their teams have achieved success.
In many ways, foreign players are dominating our pro sports scene.
If you don’t believe me, scan the recent headlines
Let’s start close to home.
Our Astros, for the third straight year, have the Major League Baseball roster with the most international players. On Opening Day, the Astros had 16 foreign-born players.
The influx of international players helped the Astros win the World Series last year and contend again this year.
And who is the best player in baseball these days? Japan’s Shohei Ohtani, who plays for the Los Angeles Angels, is widely considered the best player in MLB.
He may be both the best hitter and best pitcher, drawing comparisons to Babe Ruth, an American icon.
The 28-year-old could become baseball’s first $500-million man.
Ohtani also led Japan to the championship at the World Baseball Classic, beating the American team.
The National Basketball Association is also feeling the impact of foreign-born players.
The NBA’s last five MVP awards went to foreign-born players. Joel Embiid (Cameroon) won the award this past season, Nikola Jokic (Serbia) won the award in 2021 and 2022, and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece) won the award in 2020 and 2019.
Both Antetokounmpo and Jokic earned the award while leading their teams to an NBA title.
The next great NBA player could also be foreign-born. Victor Wembanyama of France was the top choice in this year’s draft.
The success of foreign-born players in pro sports is a result of their growing numbers.
It’s obvious baseball is no longer just America’s pastime. Across MLB this season, 28.5 percent of players on Opening Day were foreign-born.
There are now 19 countries and territories outside the U.S. with players on MLB rosters.
The Dominican Republic has the largest number of players with 104. That continues a streak of leading in this category in each year data was available.
After the Dominican Republic, these places round out the top five with players on MLB rosters:
Venezuela - 62, Cuba - 21, Puerto Rico - 19 and Mexico - 15.
Since Japan did win the World Baseball Classic, I am a bit surprised there were only 8 Japanese players on MLB rosters to start the season.
The list of international players joining the National Basketball Association has also been growing longer with time.
According to the NBA, the 2022-2023 season featured 120 players from 40 countries and six continents.
Canada is the leading “exporter” of talent with a record 22 players, while Australia has 10, France nine, and Germany six.
These countries are followed by Nigeria, Serbia and Spain, each with five players in the NBA.
You might think players born in this country might feel threatened by the foreign players as they compete for NBA roster spots.
“The increase in foreign-born players appears to have helped native-born NBA players, since bringing in top talent and increasing the league’s appeal around the world has been a key to the NBA’s success,” concludes an analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy.
The average NBA player’s salary increased from $246,000 in 1982-83 when there were few foreign-born players to $7.7 million in 2019 when 23 percent of the players were foreign-born, an increase in the average player salary of 1,254 percent (adjusted for inflation).
Many attribute the growth of foreign players in the NBA to the Dream Team at the 1992 Olympics. The Dream Team phenomenon may have inspired the rising talent level of international players.
Compared to MLB and NBA, the NFL has few international players on its teams, primarily because the league gets players from colleges.
There were only 89 foreign players in the NFL last season, and most of those had lived most of their lives in this country.
Given the popularity of the NFL in other countries, however, I predict that number will grow.
(Contact Ernie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)