Friday, March 03, 2006

How Genealogy Saved Baseball

The World Baseball Classic looked good on paper: Have a tournament of national teams with Major League Baseball players filling out the rosters. Easily done for the U.S., Japan, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic, all of which have deep baseball roots.

But four teams do not a tournament make. To make enough competitive teams, MLB allowed players to join teams from the home countries of their ancestors, so long as they could "theoretically meet the citizenship requirements." As a consequence, poorly represented countries scrambled all winter to establish the ethnic origins of big-league players.

Some players were forced to rummage through old boxes of family records and photos to document the exact birthplace of a grandfather.
Manager Matt Galante used a foolproof method to gather Italians for his team: he looked through team rosters for names ending in a "telltale vowel."

When Oakland A's pitcher Dan Haren ended up on the Dutch roster, he called his parents to find out why. They didn't know either: his father is Irish and his mother Mexican. The Dutch also lost Seattle's Joe Woerman, who turned out to be German.

Credit is due Riccardo Schiroli of the Italian Baseball & Softball Federation, who was down in the trenches where the real genealogy is done.
Working from Italy, he scoured census records, called consulates and persuaded clerks in small towns to spend hours thumbing through handwritten register books. He coaxed documents out of ballplayers and spent hours rooting around on "Thank goodness for the Internet," he says. [Link]

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