EDIT: Someone pointed out that I’m wrong about the number of players born in Germany. I got that information from Baseball-Reference, but I didn’t stop to think to check for West Germany, which BR keeps a list of separately. If you look at that list, you’ll see some famous names like Ron Gardenhire or Glenn Hubbard. It certainly explains why the gap in players born in Germany began right at the onset of the Cold War. I suppose this takes much of the wind out of these sails. Enjoy the piece anyway – at least the sentiment remains the same.
Since 1901, there have been only three players born in Germany to reach the Major Leagues. The first two were born before the Cold War era got well-underway in 1950:
- Heinz Becker was born in Berlin in 1915, and played in 152 games for the Cubs and Indians between 1943 and 1947, during the War.
- Mickey Scott was born in Weimar, Germany, in 1947, in what would soon be known as East Germany. From 1972 through 1977, he pitched in relief in 133 games for the Orioles, Expos, and Angels. He also served in the military in Vietnam in 1967, a year after leading the New York-Penn League in wins and strikeouts.
The third player is Tobi Stoner, who was born in Landstuhl, West Germany, in 1984, and made his major league debut for the Mets less than two months ago. Stoner finished the AAA season strongly, winning his last four starts, before getting the call up. He pitched well enough in limited relief for the Mets, giving up four runs in four appearances for the Mets (with three of those in one three-inning stint against the Phillies). He’ll certainly be hoping for some more innings next year, as he enters his age-25 season.
There is little written about Stoner’s time growing up. He graduated high school in central Maryland and went to a small West Virginia college called Davis & Elkins College. Seeing as how Landstuhl, Germany, is home to two key U.S. military stations – Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and Ramstein Air Base – it seems likely that Stoner was born there due to military ties (much like other famous Landstuhl-born performers, such as LeVar Burton and Rob Thomas). I cannot find any verification of this, though.
I write this because yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sadly, I have no memories of when this happened (though I do remember the earthquake-scarred Battle of the Bay only one month earlier), so I can’t add any personal recollections to the discussion around the blogosphere. Shysterball and his commentors provided some good stories, though, and the Wall Street Journal’s Daily Fix gives us an interesting perspective on how the sports world changed that day.
Baseball is most assuredly not as important in the grand scheme of things as the fall of the Berlin Wall. That wall coming down meant freedom and the end of oppression for millions of people, while baseball is just a game that we like to work ourselves up over for the fun of it. But sometimes it’s nice to analyze how a major event affected minor things, to get a feeling for the full impact of the event.
I suppose a player born on a military base in a foreign country (and that’s my assumption, of course) isn’t exactly the textbook definition of the league expanding its horizons, but, considering the long history of American military bases in Germany and the complete dearth of major league caliber players born in Germany in the last 60 years, it could be seen as a start. Stoner might not be the next Dirk Nowitzki, but it’s nice to see that, after a century of war – both hot and Cold – we can celebrate a momentous anniversary like this one with at least one German-born player in the big leagues. Hopefully that expansion, growth, and diversity will continue on for decades to come. It can only make the game more exciting.