While Cuban and Mexican baseball have been the forefront of baseball pioneering between spreading the sport and creating the Leagues, their stance is nothing in present-day Major League Baseball compared to both the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. As of April 1st in 2013, Venezuelans represented the second-highest number of foreign-born players in the Major Leagues other than Dominicans at 63. Venezuela, however, has turned in year in and year out some of the most talented players in the Major Leagues, including the current Most Valuable Player for 2 years in a row, Miguel Cabrera.
There are, once again, arguments about the origins of Venezuelan baseball, with a study from the University of Florida saying that students brought it back from America in 1895 after going to America and learning of the sport, while Milton Jamail (Book, Venezuelan Bust, Baseball Boom) says that it came from a Cuban Cigar company that established itself in 1890. On May 23rd, 1895, El Caracas Base Ball Club played the first Venezuelan baseball game as a team, splitting into two teams and being publicly photographed by the Venezuelan press. Either way, Venezuelans became captured by the sport by the early 1900’s.
In the early 1900’s, baseball in Venezuela began picking up steam, and teams were created throughout the country, and forming its own league by 1927. Those leagues still exist, creating new havens for players to go to such as previously stated Cuban Star, Martin Dihigo to go and play when America had not been as friendly as it should have been to darker-skinned players.
Alex Carrasquel was the first Venezuelan in the Major Leagues. He was a white Venezuelan signed by “Papa” Joe Cambria (Who was mentioned for nearly kidnapping players in the Previous Cuban articles) to play for the Washington Senators. Carrasquel pitched as a reliever and then fled to Mexico for a better wage as a part of Jorge Pasquel’s attempt to create an impressive Mexican league. While players were usually suspended because of Commissioner Happy Chandler created a law to deter players, Carrasquel’s sentence was reduced, and he went on to pitch a couple more years in the Major Leagues.
Almost 300 Venezuelans have come up since Alex Carrasquel, such as notable stars, Luis Aparicio, Omar Vizquel, Dave Concepcion, Bobby Abreu, and our own Johan Santana, and more Venezuelan players are added to team’s systems each year.
Now, Venezuela is host, not only to a winter-league haven to Minor and Major stars in the MLB, but to a host of Academies where minor-leaguers are developed. But, while 28 out of 30 Major League teams once held Academies in Venezuela, only 5 different academies remain for players as of now because of the dangers of the country as a whole.
The Academies that once stood affiliated with Major League teams were facilities for players signed as young as 16, (or sometimes even younger if not signed and just training) to come and play baseball, and be trained by coaches placed there by the organization. After these players were deemed ready, they would be sent to America to play in the next phase of the Minor Leagues.
Now they have been sent to the training academies that have sprouted up throughout the Dominican Republic.