“America’s Pastime” is actually an international affair. Currently Major League Baseball boasts players from more than two dozen countries. Throughout its history, immigrants and first-generation Americans have made their mark on the diamond. Here’s a look at just a few.
Joe DiMaggio: Nicknamed “The Yankee Clipper” for his speed and range in the outfield, this first-generation American is forever tied to the New York Yankees. A three-time MVP and All-Star in each of his 13 seasons, DiMaggio was also a pop icon. He’s featured in song lyrics, was the inspiration for a DC Comics character, and was the face of Mr. Coffee for 20+ years. DiMaggio’s parents, Giuseppe and Rosalia, emigrated from Sicily. During WWII they were among the thousands of Italians, Japanese, and Germans classified by the U.S. government as “enemy aliens.” Nonetheless, they embraced their new home and became American citizens after the war.
A League of their Own: During WWII, with many pro players being drafted, chewing gum tycoon and Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley formed the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. His goal was to have female athletes play at a professional level to keep the public interested in baseball. At least six women from Cuba came to the U.S. to compete in the league.
Elmer Valo: Likley the most famous Slovak ballplayer, Valo immigrated from Rybnik, Czechoslovakia at the age of six under the name Imrich Vallo with his parents Josef and Katarina,. He began his baseball career with the then Philadelphia A’s minor league system before hitting the Majors in 1940. As a player and then coach, Valo was associated with 10 different teams, including three franchises that relocated during his tenure.
The Polar Bear: Mets slugger Pete “Polar Bear” Alonso’s roots lay in Spain. Although born in the U.S., Pete’s great-grandfather, Pedro, was raised in Barcelona. Pedro returned to the States in 1938 during the Spanish Civil War. He settled in Queens, home of the New York Mets where “Polar Bear” is now making a name for himself as the starting 1st basemen.