Monday, October 14, 2013

A Dearth of Aussie MLB Debuts

[Note: I've had this blog entry sitting unpublished for two weeks, waiting for it's turn to be published. I was a bit disappointed when Nicholas Henning beat me to the punch with a similar article two Sundays ago after I wrote this one. Oh well. Great minds think alike ;)]

There have been no new Australian MLB players since Liam Hendriks took the mound on the 7th Sep 2011, meaning that by the time MLB Opening Day 2014 starts in Sydney in March, it will have been over 2 and a half years since an Aussie has made a MLB debut.

What makes this lack of Aussie debuts all the more surprising is that you have to go back to the mid Nineties to see a longer period without an Australian MLB debut. Between 1997 and 2011, 24 Australians debuted in the Majors, with the only year without a debut being 1998. The late Nineties was a beginning of a long debut streak that seems to have finally come to an end as the ABL has arrived.

The history of Aussie MLB baseballers has three real eras in my opinion.

1. The Joe Quinn Vintage era. The first Aussie to debut in Major League Baseball was Joe Quinn in 1884. His 1767 games over 17 seasons is still a MLB record for an Aussie, and one that will stand for at least another ten years at a minimum. He stood alone for over 100 years as Australia's only MLB player.

Colorized "Flashback" concept card of  Joe Quinn - © 2012 Adam East

2. The Pioneer Years. A 102 years after Quinn's debut, the second Aussie, Craig Shipley, made his MLB debut in 1986, paving the way for another five Aussies to debut in eight years (1986-1993) including Aussie baseballing legends Dave Nilsson and Graeme Lloyd.

Craig Shipley 1991 Mets WIZ 362

3. The Modern Era. Between 1993 and 1997, there was a gap without any new Aussies getting into the Majors, and then the flood gates opened. As mentioned earlier between 1997 and 2011, there were 24 Australia MLB debuts, including at least one debut every year except 1998.

Grant Balfour 2011 Topps Update US135

And then the gap.
2012 - no one.
2013 - nobody.
2014 - who knows what's in store?

Hopefully we're not about to enter a 4th era - The ABL Drought.

The newly formed Australian Baseball League started in the Aussie summer of 2010-11, three Australians make their MLB debut in 2011, and then nothing since then. Is it just coincidence that as the ABL has continued, Aussie MLB debuts have dried up? Surely we would have expected the opposite to occur. More exposure of Aussie players to scouts, to professional baseball and with additional game time would have expected a rise in the quality of the Aussies coming through into the US.


  1. Adam, lots of great points. I think there are a number of factors at play here. I have written a previous posting identifying a possible generation gap amongst the Australian players currently playing professionally in the U.S. i.e. there are a lot in Rookie Ball and a decent number in AAA, but traditionally we are usually well represented in the three A Ball levels, and in 2013 we were quite light on there. What I predict is the 2010s to be a sporadic decade for debuts, specifically we will probably see more multiple players in a season debut and then go a few years without any. I'm sure we will see a debut or two in 2014, but I predict those to follow may not be until 2015 because of how thinly represented we are in the middle levels of professional baseball. Subsequently, the debuts will be sporadic because time will be needed for our highest volume of players to matriculate up the ranks. We do have a few though in AA and AAA who could debut in 2014.