Baseball: The (Inter) National Pastime

Marissa Kiss

Advisor: James Witte, PhD, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Committee Members: Joseph Scimecca, Angela Hattery, Earl Smith

Online Location, Online
December 01, 2020, 02:00 PM to 04:00 PM


This dissertation examines the ways in which politics, law, bureaucracy, and capitalism played in increasing the growth of foreign-born players in Major League Baseball (MLB) and the rise of MLB markets outside the United States. Using a database of players who debuted in the MLB between the years 1871 to 2017 (n=9,871) and qualitative interviews with individuals who work with or within an MLB organization (n=13), this dissertation reveals that the number of foreign-born players who debuted in the league has fluctuated with the passage of various U.S. immigration policies and historical events, such as the integration of Jackie Robinson in MLB in 1947, the Cuban Revolution, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1968.  

Findings from this dissertation also reveal that different organizational and institutional frameworks within which MLB players play, impact their labor market position (e.g. age at which they debut in MLB, their duration in the league, and salary). These social structures and frameworks include: (1) MLB baseball academies in the Caribbean and South America, (2) the formal organization of baseball in Japan,  (3) collegiate baseball in the United States, and (4) MLB policies and regulations such as the Rule 4 Amateur Draft and Collective Bargaining Agreements. For example, compared to native-born players who debuted in MLB between the years 1990 and 2017, foreign-born players (especially players from the Caribbean and Central America/Mexico and South America) were younger when they debuted in the MLB and when they played their final game. Additionally, foreign-born batters who debuted in MLB between the years 1990 and 2017 played in fewer seasons and games compared to native-born batters. However, foreign-born batters (especially batters born in the Caribbean) and foreign-born relief pitchers (especially relief pitchers born in the Caribbean and Central America/Mexico and South America) had better performance outcomes compared to native-born players. As better players, foreign-born players earned higher mean and median salaries between the years 1990 to 2017.  

Although foreign-born players earn higher salaries and the economic playing field between foreign-born and native-born players has leveled once players debut in MLB, findings from the qualitative interviews reveled that foreign-born players, especially Latino players, face widespread exploitation before they debut in MLB. Unlike players from Asia, where institutional and organizational barriers prevent exploitation, these barriers are largely absent when it comes to the recruitment and signing of Caribbean and South American players. Consequently, with MLB teams continuing to capitalize on foreign-born Latino players, MLB has created a revolving door whereby players from the Caribbean and Central America/Mexico and South America start and end their playing career at younger ages and play in fewer seasons. This revolving door creates a market that relies on the exploitation of foreign-born talent and further pushes MLB teams to spread their influence to other countries and continents to develop and find new raw talent. This dissertation illustrates the extent to which U.S. immigration outcomes are driven by politics and economic interests rather than abstract values and ideals. 

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