It won't come with the same level of celebration as, say, a World Cup title, but the Mariners are recalling third baseman Alex Liddi, who was born and grew up in Italy. He'll be the first Italian-born major leaguer in nearly 50 years, and just the sixth ever, but the first one who didn't move to the United States or Canada at an early age.
Liddi is a legitimate prospect, a 23-year-old with big power potential. He hit .259 with 30 home runs at Triple-A Tacoma, but the 170 strikeouts in 138 games indicates plenty of holes in his swing. His glove reportedly needs works, although he fielded .943 at third base and actually played 24 games at shortstop. Liddi also will become the first graduate of Major League Baseball's European Academy to reach the majors.
In honor of Liddi's recall, let's produce a list of the best players born in Europe. There have been many European-born major leaguers, although almost all of the recent ones were sons of U.S. military personnel stationed in Europe. For example, Bruce Bochy was born in France and Ron Gardenhire was born in West Germany. Ireland has produced 46 major leaguers -- but nearly all were born before 1900 and immigrated to the U.S. The last Irish-born big leaguer was Joe Cleary, who graduated from high school in New York City and pitched one game for the Senators in 1945.
C Eddie Ainsmith (Russia). He wasn't much of a hitter, but he played from 1910 to 1924.
1B Jack Doyle (Ireland). He was known as Dirty Jack, which I think is all he needs to make this team. On his SABR bio page, Lyle Spatz writes, "Always a fierce competitor, Doyle engaged in brawls and fistfights with umpires, fans, opposing players, and even his own teammates. Two of his more notorious assaults were on umpires Tom Lynch in August 1897 and Bob Emslie on the 4th of July 1900. On several occasions he went into the stands to battle fans, including a spring training game in Norfolk in 1896. He made another foray into the stands in 1901 on his first visit to the Polo Grounds after having been traded from the Giants to the Cubs. More than once these battles led to his being arrested." He was good enough to last 17 seasons.
2B Glenn Hubbard (West Germany). Born on Hahn Air Force Base, Hubbard was a slick-fielding second baseman known mostly for his bushy beard while playing for the Braves in the late '70s and '80s. He had his best season in 1983 when he drove in 70 runs and made the All-Star team.
3B Jimmy Austin (Wales). Austin's father was a shipbuilder who moved to Ohio in 1885 and brought his family over in 1887. Austin was older than most of the Europeans immigrants, 8 years old when he came over. He reportedly didn't see his first baseball game until he was 14. Austin worked as a machinist and didn't begin a professional career until he was left jobless when the union went on strike. He didn't reach the majors until he was 29, but played into his 40s.
SS Steve Jeltz (West Germany). His father was in the military and Jeltz was a terrible hitter for the Phillies in the '80s, but I'm having troubling finding another shortstop with a significant career.
OF Bobby Thomson (Scotland). Yes, the most famous home run in major league history was struck by a Scotsman. Thomson was born in Glasgow but grew up on Staten Island, and the Giants signed him out of high school for $100. He hit 264 home runs and drove in 1,206 runs.
OF John Anderson (Norway). One of three major leaguers born in Norway, "Honest John" played in the majors from 1894 until 1908, one of the few switch-hitters of his era and, 6-foot-2, one of the era's biggest players. Powerful enough to once lead the NL in slugging percentage, he fashioned more than 1,800 hits in his career.
OF Elmer Valo (Czechoslovakia). Valo's family emigrated to the U.S. when he was 6. He had a 20-year career in the majors, batting .282 with 1,420 career hits.
OF Patsy Donovan (Ireland). Born in County Cork in 1863, Donovan's family moved to Lawrence, Mass., when he was 3 years old. Like many in the area, he eventually dropped out of school to work in the town's cotton mills, but later pursued a professional baseball career. A fleet-footed right fielder, he hit .301 in his career with 2,256 hits. He also managed 11 years in the majors, many years in the minors and even coached at St. Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., where one of his players was George H.W. Bush.
P Bert Blyleven (Netherlands). Born in Zeist, Blyleven's father moved the family to Canada when Blyleven was 2 and then to California when he was 5.
P Tony Mullane (Ireland). Known as "The Apollo of the Box," Mullane won 284 games from 1881 through 1894. Mullane threw primarily right-handed, but on occasion would throw left-handed, apparently possible in part because he didn't wear a glove. He later became a Chicago police officer.
P Jack Quinn (Austria-Hungary). Quinn was one of the great old pitchers of all time, appearing in his final game in 1933 when he was 50 years old. He won 248 games in the majors, and more than another 100 in the minors. What's even more interesting is that nobody seems completely sure of his ancestry, age or even real name -- in part, because Quinn was purposely elusive about his background. Researcher Michael Scott published evidence in 2008 that Quinn was born in Stefurov in 1893, now part of Slovakia, but then part of Austria-Hungary.
P Tommy Bond (Ireland). One of the first stars of the National League, Bond led the circuit in wins and strikeouts in 1877 and 1878. He died in 1941, when he was 84 years old -- the last survivor of the NL's inaugural season in 1876.
P Moe Drabowsky (Poland). Born in 1935, Drabowsky escaped Poland in 1938, settling in Connecticut. Pitching mostly out of the bullpen, he went 88-105 with a 3.71 ERA over 17 seasons.
Manager: Harry Wright (England). The Hall of Famer was born in Sheffield in 1935. His family moved to New York when he was 3 and his father found work as a bowler, coach and groundskeeper at the St. George's Cricket Club. Wright moved to Cincinnati where he eventually helped build the first professional team and he later managed the Boston Red Stockings of the National Association and National League, as well as Providence and Philadelphia.