Chart of the Week: The Rise of Latinos in Major League Baseball

Federico Anzil

Written by:
Federico Anzil

mlb demographics ethnicity infographic chart wide header

In 1947, Jackie Robinson became one of the first African Americans to play in Major League Baseball. After Robinson broke the baseball color line, hundreds of African Americans were inspired to join the major leagues. By 1981, 18.7 percent of MLB players were African Americans.

After that, however, the trend sharply reversed and in 2017, only 6.7 percent of MLB players were African Americans.

mlb demographics ethnicity infographic chart latin americans vs. african americans in MLB

The number of Latinos playing in the MLB also increased after 1947, but the upward trend continued even after the percentage of African American players started to decrease. In 1993, Latinos replaced African Americans as the second most dominant race/ethnicity in the major leagues. In 2017, 27.4 percent of MLB players were Latinos.

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Many factors can influence the decline in the number of African American players in the MLB. Some argue that a shift in preferences in this population group played a role. But demographic changes could also be influencing MLB demographics.

Clubs are increasingly looking for talent in Central American countries. Looking at the popularity of online searches for the term “baseball,” Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Venezuela have the greatest search popularity of all Latin American countries.

 

MLB Demographics

The number of professional players from Latin American countries saw an increase from 0.7% in 1947 to more than 27% in 2016. In general, the number of foreign-born players reached a record number of 254 in 2018.

If you take a closer look, you'll see that many of them are from a handful of Caribbean countries. The following chart shows the number of players by country of origin, according to 2019 Opening Day rosters.

MBL-players-born-outside-US-mlb demographics ethnicity infographic chart

Five Latin American countries are currently providing a large number of MLB players:

  • Dominican Republic
  • Venezuela
  • Cuba
  • Puerto Rico
  • Mexico

Curaçao (#8) and Colombia (#10) are also among the the top 10 countries of origin.

If you haven't heard of Curaçao before, it has a population of just 161,000. (New York has 53 times more people than Curaçao.) Despite its small size, it has sent 11 players to the MLB since 2000.

5-caribbean-countries-have-de-most-MLB-players-mlb demographics ethnicity infographic chart

Since 2000, on average, there have been nearly four players from Curaçao at the MLB every year. Taking the population of Curaçao into account, this means that there are more than 25 players in the MLB per million inhabitants in Curaçao, while the United States has only three players per million inhabitants.

As the proportion of individuals that identify themselves as Latin American increases due to immigration, so can the public demand for players from this region. The United States of today has a greater number of immigrants from Latin American countries, so a plausible explanation is that migration patterns are also influencing the number of Latinos playing in the MLB.

What do you think is causing these changes in MLB demographics? Let us know your thoughts below.

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About the Author

Federico Anzil is an economist and data analyst. He is the founder of EconomicPoint and ZonaEconomica. His fields of research include public policy and social issues. He applies empirical research and economic theory to provide alternative points of view.

2 responses to “Chart of the Week: The Rise of Latinos in Major League Baseball”

  1. jim neighbor says:

    Very nice work. Thank you very much.

  2. Jay Coakley says:

    Great visuals. There are balance of trade dynamics in these data. Latin players from poor countries can be trained and signed to contracts much more cheaply than any players in the United States. The often exploitive academy system in certain Latin American countries is cheap and efficient in terms of identifying and training players, and the players learn under physical and social conditions that prepare them for the difficulties they will face in the minor leagues.
    I am revising a textbook and would like to use your graph comparing Latin and African Americans. Possible? If so, please email ASAP. Many thanks–Jay

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