The reach of baseball globally has grown over the years. Just in the last couple years, we’ve seen players from South Africa, Lithuania, and other countries less known for their baseball prowess.
Throughout their history, the Yankees have featured some players from these places, and it dates back right to the early days of the team.
The impetus for this post was John Anderson. In the offseason after the first ever New York Highlanders team took the field, they acquired Anderson in December 1903. Anderson was coming off his ninth major league season. The Highlanders got him for 37-year old Jack O’Connor. He also happened to have been born in Norway.
Anderson was born in December 14, 1873 in Sarpsborg, Norway. When he was eight years old, his family immigrated to the United States, moving to Worcester, MA. He would have been in the country 13 years when he started playing for Worcester of the New England League. By the end of that year, he was playing for the then Brooklyn Grooms of the National League.
He played one full season for the Highlanders in 1904, putting up decent numbers for that era and helping them nearly win the pennant. In 1905, he struggled in 32 games with the teams and was put on waivers.
He played the remainder of that season and the following year with the Washington Senators. The Senators were an absolute trash fire in 1907, and Anderson eventually became fed up with the team’s manager and just left. He spent the rest of the year playing semi-pro baseball, and was sold to the White Sox ahead of the 1908 season. He played one more major league season and one more in the minors before retiring.
Hong Kong born Austin Brice made his major league debut in 2016. That came 102 years after China born Harry Kingman briefly played for the Yankees.
Kingman was the son of missionaries and was born while his family was in China in 1892. Seven years after he was born, his father became sick and the family moved to the United States.
His father took a job as chaplain at Pomona College, which allowed Kingman to enroll in the school despite reportedly not having great grades and being a bit of a troublemaker. However in the sports arena, he excelled. He was a five sport star.
The Washington Senators took notice of Kingman and signed him in 1914. But before he even played a game, they traded him to the Yankees. Due to Kingman’s tall frame, manager Clark Griffith thought he could turn him into a pitcher. Kingman did end up playing four games as a first baseman for the Yankees, but the pitching thing never ended up working out. After those four games, Kingman never played in the major leagues again.
Kingman’s post baseball career ended up being much more fascinating. He ended up returning to his birth country as a missionary. Some personal artifacts from that period of Kingman’s life include a letter he received from Mahatma Gandhi. Later during World War II, he and his wife became vocal opponents of the forced relocation of Japanese-Americans. Kingman would also move to Washington DC and founded a lobbying organization, dealing chiefly with civil rights issues. He died in 1982.
The lone player after to come from American Samoa made a very brief appearance with the Yankees in 1968.
As a boy, Tolia Solaita, known as “Tony”, played the game of Kilikita, a Samoan form a cricket and also the country’s national sport. That helped him pick up the game of baseball when his family moved to Hawaii when he was eight.
At his first little league practice, Solaita had to be shown which way to run around the bases. He was also given a glove and placed at second base, but later disposed of the glove and played barehanded. He became a natural at the game, and later caught the eye of the Yankees, who signed him in 1965.
He impressed in the minor leagues and was called up at 21 years old. Soliata played one game for the Yankees in 1968. He replaced Mickey Mantle at first base and got one at bat, striking out.
At that point, it seemed like the Yankees considered Soliata a star of the future, but began to bury him in the minor leagues after that. Despite protecting him ahead of the 1968 expansion draft, Soliata didn’t even make it back to Triple-A until 1970. Then after a slow start the next year, he was demoted to Double-A. By that time, he had been surpassed by other Yankees prospects.
Soliata was finally traded away from the Yankees in 1973. In 1974, he returned to the majors with the Kansas City Royals. After that, he played six solid years with the Royals, Angels, Expos, and Blue Jays. Soliata went on to have an excellent career in Japan, hitting at least 30 home runs in all four seasons he played there.
The Giants tried to sign him in Soliata after his Japan years, but he decided he was done playing baseball. After visiting Samoa with his brother, Soliata decided to move back to his birth place. He went there with a goal of helping spread baseball in Samoa, and started a little league program there.
While in Samoa, Soliata had also built and established a meat market. A dispute with another man over land eventually led to Soliata’s murder in 1990. He was only 43.
These three different people, born in different parts of the world, all came over to the United States and had an impact on baseball and Yankees’ history.