What do the following seemingly disparate folks have in common: Major League Baseball commissioner Allan “Bud” Selig from Milwaukee, Wisconsin; 1909 Nobel Peace Prize winner Paul-Henri-Benjamin Baluet d’Estournelles baron de Constant de Rebecque (November 22, 1852-May 15, 1924) of France; SoHo wine bar manager Shlomo Lipetz of New York by way of Tel Aviv, Israel; Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame manager and player Yoshio Yoshida; Team Spain’s 2013 World Baseball Classic (wbc) manager Mauro Mazzotti from Italy; Nate Freiman, Team Israel’s 2013 wbc home run slugger from Phoenix, Arizona, by way of Wellesley, Massachusetts; native black Sotho tribe member and minor-league South African shortstop Gift Ngoepe; and secretary general of the French Federation of Baseball and Softball Jean-Christophe Tiné?
They love baseball, whether it is played on fields in America, France, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Israel, Japan, the Dominican, Cuba, or anywhere else on earth.
The field of dreams for the wbc qualifying round among France, South Africa, Spain, and Israel was comely Roger Dean Stadium in luxurious Jupiter, Florida, where green abounds, not only in the pockets of its well-known residents, but on the many golf courses rolling across the landscape. So when players from nine countries took the diamond on Wednesday, September 19, 2012, hopes were high in and behind the dugouts.
But wait. Nine countries? Only four are competing. What are all those guys from the Dominican, Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba, and the United States doing on the field? The liberal wbc eligibility rules permit it:
A player is eligible to participate on a World Baseball Classic team if any of the following criteria is met—
The player is a citizen of the nation the team represents.
The player is qualified for citizenship or to hold a passport under the laws [End Page 103] of a nation represented by a team, but has not been granted citizenship or been issued a passport, then the player may be made eligible by wbci upon petition by the player or team.
The player is a permanent legal resident of the nation or territory the team represents.
The player was born in the nation or territory the team represents.
The player has one parent who is, or if deceased was, a citizen of the nation the team represents.
The player has one parent who was born in the nation or territory the team represents.
Is that fair? After all, the Israeli squad had only a few Israeli players and lots of American Jews. Similarly, the Spanish players (managed by an Italian), save one from the Iberian peninsula, all hailed from this side of the Atlantic, mostly from Caribbean countries, a few from stateside. But the squads from France and South Africa betrayed either a healthy dose of nationalism or some more benign motive, made up as they were of practically all homegrown players. Do they even play baseball in France and South Africa? Or, for that matter, in Spain and Israel?
Some did raise the fairness issue. Could Israel be beaten fielding major-league stars like Shawn Green? And what about Spain, represented by hot shot Latinos, some of whom would surely soon be wearing big-league togs? Wouldn’t the Frenchmen and the distant South Africans be embarrassed? These questions were on many peoples’ minds as the teams sallied forth. Interestingly enough, the answers not only spoke to that issue, but to baseball’s status in those countries represented, to their need to expand the game, and to Bud Selig’s passionate belief in the internationalization of baseball.
Jean-Christophe Tiné, the heady secretary general of the French Baseball and Softball Federation, from Paris, doubling as the gm of Team France in its first-ever wbc appearance, took a balanced approach to the eligibility issue. That might have been expected from a man trained as a lawyer in France and Germany—one who is writing a book on the surprising history of baseball in France, who is teaching his young son, Gabriel, to play the game as Jean-Christophe did before...