My criteria for this list was simple. Each player I considered had to be born outside of the United States, which excluded Alex Rodriguez since he was born in New York City. Also, the player was only to be considered for their exploits in Major League Baseball alone, and not for their performance in any other league. And as you will see, players who have been caught for performance enhancing drugs were not viewed as highly as their statistics may have garnered them.
Top 10 Foreign Born MLB Players in History
Honorable Mentions - Roberto Alomar (Puerto Rico), Ferguson Jenkins (Canada), Vladimir Guerrero (Dominican Republic), Bert Blyleven (Netherlands), Rafael Palmeiro (Cuba)
I debated over Alomar and the tenth ranked player for quite some time, and ultimately Robby fell just shy of making this list. Alomar was one of the more underrated players of his era, and he could simply no wrong throughout his illustrious 17 year career. He won 10 Gold Glove awards and is widely considered one of the best defensive second basemen of all time. He also came up within 300 hits of reaching the 3,000 hit plateau and was a 12 time All Star. I've talked about writing a post about the most underrated players in the Hall of Fame for several weeks now, and when that list does indeed come out, Alomar just might come to mind.
Vladimir Guerrero is one of my all time favorite players who never wore pinstripes. Watching him hit was one of the most entertaining sights, and keeping him off this list was especially tough. Rafael Palmeiro is one of five players to compile 3,000 hits and 500 home runs (congratulations to Alex Rodriguez on recently becoming the 5th), but he managed to fall short as well.
10 - Ivan Rodriguez, C, Puerto Rico
The second coming of the "Pudge" moniker barely cracked this Top 10, which speaks to just how tremendous of an impact foreign players have made on the game. Rodriguez has been labeled as the best defensive catcher of this past generation, but he was no slouch at the plate either. He has more hits than any other catcher ever, and retired with a lifetime batting average of .296. He may not come before Berra and Bench on All Time lists, but he isn't as far behind them as one may think. The Hall of Fame should be calling him sooner rather than later, even despite the PED suspicion surrounding his legacy.
9 - Juan Marichal, SP, Dominican Republic
It wouldn't make sense keeping the "Dominican Dandy" from making the cut. Juan Marichal was anything but dandy to face throughout his prime, going 154-65 with a 2.34 ERA between 1963 and 1969 alone. He made ten All Star teams and won more games than any other pitcher through the 1960's with help from a high leg kick and fearsome delivery. Marichal may not have stood out much more than Canada's Ferguson Jenkins and the Netherlands' Bert Blyleven statistically (who were listed as Honorable Mentions), but he was one of the first Hispanic pitchers who found success in the big leagues which gives him the edge here. Unfortunately, he was often overlooked because of the pitching-rich era he played during, which also featured legends like Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax.
8 - Miguel Cabrera, 1B/3B/OF, Venezuela
When Miguel Cabrera calls it a career, we may view him as one of the greatest offensive forces to ever step into the batter's box. He is on pace to join not only the 500 Home Run club but the 3,000 hit club as well, and could achieve much more if health remains to be on his side. This season, Cabrera is mashing .350 with a .456 OBP, 15 Home Runs and 52 RBI, already making up for a "bad" 2014 in which he batted .313 with 25 Home Runs. He is the best hitter I have had the pleasure of growing up with in my personal opinion, and I can't wait to see what more he will do before he calls it a career. It is safe to say "Miggy" will be closer to the top of these ranks by then.
7 - Manny Ramirez, OF, Dominican Republic
The highest ranked known PED user on this list was as dangerous an offensive weapon as could be in the mid 2000's. Ramirez was a colorful personality for several teams over his 19 year career; always finding some way or another to make headlines. But what would always take the biggest stage was his bat, which helped lead the Red Sox to 2 World Series titles and brought him to 12 All Star Games and 9 Silver Sluggers. Between he and David Ortiz, he fell just short of being listed on the Honorable Mentions on this list, the Red Sox had a 3-4 lineup punch that could not be denied. He retired with 555 Home Runs and over 2,500 hits. Tainted or not, it was quite a career for a man who thrived on simply being himself.
6 - Rod Carew, 1B/2B, Panama
Ah, yes. Hall of Famer Rod Carew. Carew's sweet swing led him to seven batting titles and over 3,000 career hits. He was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1967 and won the AL MVP in 1977. He wasn't known for being a powerful bat, but was one of the greatest contact hitters in history. Carew was an All Star in every year but one throughout his 19 years in the big leagues, showing that he was not only a tremendous talent but a fan favorite as well. It isn't much of a surprise that he holds one of the higher places here. His trademark red batting gloves gave him all the extra flair he needed as his batting averages consistently soared to the top of the charts.
5 - Mariano Rivera, CP, Panama
Rivera is one of my top 3 All Time Favorite Players, and the best closer in history. His cutter was unhittable on most nights throughout his excellent career, and he has become one of the most beloved athletes in New York sports history. His trophy shelf is enormous, and along with his various awards he also was named to 13 All Star teams. He was so good that he alone could change the outcome of a game when he entered, which is pretty rare to expect from a relief pitcher. Rivera will be most likely inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019 when he first arrives on the ballot, and it will be about time by then.
4 - Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Japan
The next active player on this countdown currently is stuck in the freakshow that is the Miami Marlins' organization, led by General Manager and Manager Dan Jennings. But rather than focus on the now, let's all do Mr. Suzuki some respect and reminisce on the good times. He followed in Japanese hurler Hideo Nomo's footsteps when moving on from Nippon Professional Baseball to the Major Leagues in 2001, and from the very first game it appeared as though he never left. His quickness, precision, and dominance could all be felt in a heartbeat, and he went on to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in his rookie season. He has since made ten All Star teams, won ten Gold Glove Awards, and has racked up over 2,800 hits (not including another 1,278 in Japan, giving him over 4,000 professional base knocks!) in one of the most impressive careers to date.
3 - Pedro Martinez, SP, Dominican Republic
I'm not one of the guys who puts Pedro among the top shelf of pitchers ever. But I do recognize the impact he left behind with this sport, and how dominant his prime seasons were. Pedro will be on his way into the Hall of Fame this summer after a brilliant career spanning 5 teams in 18 years. His years with the Boston Red Sox were of the most significance; where he won 3 Cy Young Awards in a 4 year stretch (he finished 2nd the other year of those 4). He was a vintage-type performer on the mound; never afraid to unleash his fastball on any player willing to put up a fight. At times, he could be dangerous, throwing at batters to make amends, but that was Pedro. And clearly, if the Hall of Fame voters put him in the Hall as quickly and deliberately as they did, his strategy worked.
2 - Roberto Clemente, OF, Puerto Rico
When originally thinking of making this list, I was almost positive Clemente would reign supreme over all of today's stars. However, this was not the case. Clemente had a fantastic career, garnering exactly 3,000 hits before dying in a tragic plane crash at the age of 38. He made 15 All Star teams, won 12 Gold Glove Awards, the NL MVP in 1966, and was part of two Pirates World Series winners in 1960 and 1971! He was a true 5 Tool Talent, and was capable of hurting teams on both sides at a Hall of Fame caliber. He was clearly the most impactful and influential man to ever come to the big leagues from outside the country, considering he was the best of the initial wave of foreign players. But one man's talent was able to unseat him from his throne, becoming (in my opinion) the greatest all around International player in MLB history.
1 - Albert Pujols, 1B, Dominican Republic
The Machine. Since Albert Pujols signed his mega deal in Los Angeles, a lot of people, myself included, have turned our attention to Miguel Cabrera instead. Pujols got off to a bad start, battling injuries, and Cabrera was crushing the ball better than ever before. How could we not drop Pujols with talent like that emerging? Besides, Pujols' contract far outweighs the best player on his own team, Mike Trout, and people like me began to doubt what Angels management was doing. This may not keep up, but 2015 has shown that the best supposedly clean power hitter of our generation is back at full health, and he hasn't lost a step.
Pujols' rookie season in 2001 was just as spectacular as Ichiro's, but the National League was filled with slugging superstars such as Bonds and Sosa, which kept him from also winning the MVP that year. Since then, he stole the show for much of the mid to late 2000's, winning 3 NL MVP Awards, 2 World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals, and making 9 All Star teams. He hit his 500th career Home Run last year, and is cruising up the leaderboard (now 16th All Time with 543, chasing Mike Schmidt). This man had a presence that could be felt from miles away in his prime, and it's exciting to see slices of that tremendous past come back on occasion. When all is said and done for Prince Albert, he could potentially reaching 700 Home Runs and 3,000 hits. The only other player who has done that currently is Hank Aaron, but Alex Rodriguez may reach it as well if he hangs on long enough.
People are going to argue that Clemente was a better player than Pujols. That's okay. We as people tend to look back on the past and see it as better than the current. When you're young, you're prone to believing much of what you see, magnifying iconic athletes, celebrities, and musicians to be larger than life and far superior to others of their respective kinds. I'm not trying to slight Roberto by any sense of the word, but if you really compare their statistics and think about their individual dominance in baseball, they can relatively easily be compared. Nobody can match the impact Clemente left behind as a person, but on the field, I'll take Pujols.
Leave your thoughts in the comment section below if you think otherwise!
*UPDATE: Sorry, this was meant to be posted yesterday. However, it's my blog, so I can do what I want with it. Call it "Ten for Wednesday" if it makes matters easier. Times have been especially tough lately on a personal note, and this was the best I could do, but I hope you all enjoy it!*