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WBC 2017: Who are the best Yankees to hail from each country?

The team’s rich history has been a global success story.

World Baseball Classic - Pool A - Game 4 - Chinese Taipei v Netherlands
Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

The 2017 World Baseball Classic has begun, and though the tournament is sometimes criticized, it’s a nice excuse every few years to see competitive baseball very early on. It doesn’t matter if not all the best MLB players on the rosters; there’s still plenty of talent and the games clearly matter to the people competing. One only has to look to the exuberance of the Dominican Republic team in 2013 as they romped to the crown for evidence.

So in the spirit of the WBC, who would be the best Yankees of all-time to represent each country? Some are obvious, some are obscure, and some aren’t even mentioned here since their teams didn’t qualify (like Panama’s Mariano Rivera). Regardless, it makes for a fun exercise. Many thanks to Baseball Reference for providing incredibly convenient sorting by birthplace.

United States - Babe Ruth

I guess Derek Jeter deserves some bonus points for actually playing on Team USA in the WBC, but anyway: Duh. Moving along...

Honorable mentions: Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle

Dominican Republic - Robinson Cano

It’s hard to believe, but Bobby Beisbol is already one of the greatest players in baseball history to hail from the Dominican Republic. Assuming health in 2017, Cano will be ninth all-time in hits among Dominican-born players by the end of the year, and with 2,210 hits under his belt, 3,000 is not so far away. Adrian Beltre and Albert Pujols will become the first Dominicans to reach 3,000 hits, and the path is wide open for Cano to be the third. Soriano’s dingers were fun, but the 2013 WBC MVP is the easy choice here.

Honorable mentions: Alfonso Soriano, Melky Cabrera

Japan - Hideki Matsui

While Tanaka and Kuroda have been stellar on the mound, they can’t rival the sheer consistency and power of the man they called “Godzilla.” Matsui was only the second Japanese-born position player to come over and thrive in the United States, and he belted 140 dingers with the Yankees over seven memorable seasons. He made a pair of All-Star teams and forever cemented himself in fans’ hearts with his World Series MVP performance in 2009. Go go Godzilla.

Honorable mentions: Masahiro Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda

Puerto Rico - Bernie Williams

In the tightest competition here, I’m taking over Bernie over Posada. It’s honestly almost a coin flip, but he meant so much for so long to the Yankees and their fans. The pride of San Juan’s last competitive play actually came in the 2009 WBC with Puerto Rico, three years after his final MLB game. Years before that though, he led the first wave of Yankees prospects who surged them into playoff contention and championships aplenty in the late ‘90s, providing power from both sides of the plate for 16 seasons.

Honorable mentions: Jorge Posada, Ed Figueroa

Cuba - Orlando Hernandez

Catchy nickname? Check.

Playoff heroics? Check.

Inspiration for the greatest Yankees commercial ever? Check.

Do the El Duque.

Honorable mentions: Luis Tiant, Aroldis Chapman

Canada - George Selkirk

In a delightful coincidence, I actually just wrote about Selkirk in the ”Top 100 Yankees” series. He had the foreboding task of somehow filling Babe Ruth’s shoes, and the Ontario native managed to carve out a nice career for himself, serving as an everyday player for Joe McCarthy while the Yankees won four championships in a row from ‘36 through ‘39. That’s enough to beat out Ford, a one-season Deadball Era wonder, and Martin, who only had two years in pinstripes.

Honorable mentions: Russ Ford, Russell Martin

Venezuela - Bobby Abreu

One of Brian Cashman’s all-time greatest heists was picking Abreu’s contract up from the Phillies at the trade deadline in 2006 in exchange for a prospect package led by 2005 top draft pick C.J. Henry, who quickly flamed out. Meanwhile, Abreu was a steady power bat for two and half seasons, mashing 95 doubles and 43 homers in 372 games for two playoff teams. Abreu also had a fantastic nickname in “El Comedulce,” so that just makes him even better.

Honorable mentions: Luis Sojo, Francisco Cervelli

Netherlands - Didi Gregorius

Didi is on a hot streak for the Netherlands WBC team right now, in fact. The slick-fielding shortstop is entering his third season with the Yankees, and like Selkirk, he has done a smooth job replacing a legend in Jeter. Plus, Gregorius was actually born in the Netherlands, unlike Jones, who hails from Curacao. Jones is obviously the better player, but Gregorius is the better Yankee.

Honorable mentions: Andruw Jones

Chinese Taipei - Chien-Ming Wang

Wang was a surprising find out of Taiwan and emerged in 2005 to give Joe Torre a devastating sinkerball threat on the mound. Batters often made contact, but could do very little with it. Teams hit into almost exactly one double play per start against Wang, who rode the sinker to a Cy Young runner-up finish in ‘06 and another superb year in ‘07. He was cruising along again in ‘08 when a freak injury on the basepaths crushed his career. Wang messed up his shoulder in the rehab and was never the same again, but he was simply a ton of fun to watch.

Australia - Graeme Lloyd

Bob Watson was blasted for acquiring Lloyd from the Brewers late in the ‘96 season as the southpaw struggled out of the bullpen in September. Then in the playoffs, the switch flipped, and no one could touch the Aussie’s wipeout slider. Lloyd got some big outs in the comeback World Series victory over the Braves and remained in pinstripes for two more years, winning another title in ‘98. He had a 0.00 ERA and gave up just two hits with no walks in 13 playoff games. She’ll be right.

Lloyd also went berserk on Armando Benitez, and for that, he will always have my love.

Mexico - Alfredo Aceves

With just a couple good years, Luis Cessa could quickly vault to the top of the field here, but for now, it’s Aceves, who superbly filled the jack-of-all-trades pitching role in the Yankees’ championship season of 2009. Much like Ramiro Mendoza in the ‘90s dynasty years, Aceves could start and capably handle both short and long relief, giving Joe Girardi a terrific weapon. He got hurt in 2010 and spent the rest of his career bouncing around, but “Ace” will always have ‘09.

South Korea - Rob Refsnyder

Refsnyder doesn’t really have competition here, so he essentially gets the nod by default. I will say that Byung-Hyun Kim was a near-miss.

Colombia - Donovan Solano

The same goes here for Solano. This could have been Jose Quintana if the Yankees knew what they had in the minors in 2011. Alas.

China - Harry Kingman

The first true Chinese baseball player was not signed until 2015, but the Yankees still have the only major leaguer ever born in China on their all-time roll call. Just last year, Matt Provenzano wrote a fascinating piece on Kingman, who was the son of missionaries and played in four games for the Deadball Era Yanks in 1914.

Italy - Rugger Ardizoia

I guess under WBC team rules, Joe DiMaggio would qualify for this, but to be authentic, we’ll go with the one Yankee in history born in Italy. Ardiozia only pitched one game in 1947, but he was profiled in the New York Times and recently held the title of longest-living Yankee until he passed away in July 2015 at the age of 95. And hey, the Yankees won the World Series in ‘47, so he’s a champion as well!

Israel - Ron Blomberg

Okay fine, we have to go with WBC rules here since there have not been any MLB players born in Israel yet. So the selection has to be the man who titled his autobiography “Designated Hebrew” after becoming the first DH in MLB history. The Yankees got to pick Blomberg first overall in the 1967 Draft, and though he struggled with injuries, he was clearly a threat at the plate with a 141 career wRC+, whenever he could manage to stay on the field.