May 23, 2018

First Europeans to Play in the Majors

October 17, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Last year, I wrote an article on the first players to appear in the major leagues from certain countries. Here is a follow up to that piece on the first players from European countries to make major league appearances.

First Italian – Julio Bonetti (Debut: April 22nd, 1937 with the St. Louis Browns)
Bonetti, born in Genoa, Italy, debuted for the lowly Browns in their second game during the 1937 season. His family moved to San Francisco when he was a teenager and Bonetti made his professional baseball debut with Mission in the Pacific Coast League in 1933. He spent four seasons in the minors before signing a contract with the Browns, whom he pitched for during the ’37 and ’38 seasons, compiling a 6-14 record in 65 games. Afterward, Bonetti spent three seasons pitching with Los Angeles in the PCL and played one final major league game with the Cubs in 1940, when he gave up three runs in one inning plus of work during a 9-5 loss to Pittsburgh.

First Frenchman – Joe Woerlin (Debut: July 21st, 1895 with the Washington Senators)
Only eight players born in France have ever reached the major league level and Woerlin was the first in 1895, although he only appeared in one game for the Washington Senators. One of the 14 different shortstops used by the Senators that season, Woerlin debuted as a 30-year-old in a July game in St. Louis. Woerlin singled and walked in four plate appearances in a game which the Senators lost by a score of 16-8. The next French-born player to appear in the majors would by Claude Gouzzie, who had one at-bat in his short career with the St. Louis Browns.

First Dane – Olaf Henriksen (Debut: August 11th, 1911 with the Boston Red Sox)
The native of Kirkerup, Denmark spent seven seasons with the Red Sox as a backup outfielder to the likes of Tris Speaker, Duffy Lewis, and Harry Hooper. Henrikson won three World Series titles in his time in Boston and had a part in the 1912 World Series during the eighth and final game. With the score 1-0 for the opposing New York Giants, Henriksen hit a pinch-hit, game-tying double off of Christy Mathewson in the seventh inning to bring Boston back in the game, which they eventually won 3-2 in extra innings.

Henriksen was a useful pinch hitter for the Sox and had a knack of getting on-base (lifetime OBP: .392).  His career wrapped up in 1917. ‘Swede’ played 321 career games, all with Boston, and had a lifetime .269 average.

First German – Charlie Getzien (Debut: August 13th, 1884 for the Detroit Wolverines)
‘Pretzels’ started his major league career with a bang in ’84, no-hitting the Philadelphia Phillies in his final start of his rookie season. Despite posting a losing record in his debut season, Getzien had a team-best 1.95 ERA for a terrible Wolverines team and developed into a dependable starter. Getzien broke out in ’86, his third season, when he won 30 games for the Wolverines, who as a team improved for a second place finish in the National League.

In 1887, Getzien had a NL-best winning percentage (.690) and led the Wolverines staff to a World Series appearance. In a fifteen-game World Series against the St. Louis Browns, Getzien started six games and went 4-2 to help Detroit win the Series by a margin of 10-5. The right-hander pitched one more year for Detroit but the team folded after the ’88 season.

Getzien pitched in four more seasons for four different NL teams; Indianapolis, Boston, Cleveland, and St. Louis. He finished his career with an overall record of 145-139 in 292 career starts.

First Norwegian – John Anderson (Debut: September 8th, 1894 for the Brooklyn Bridegrooms)
The first of only three Norwegian-born baseball players to play in the majors, Anderson spent 14 productive seasons in both the American and National Leagues. While Anderson’s glove was poor, his tremendous combo of speed and power helped him led the NL in triples during the 1898 season (22 with both Brooklyn and Washington) and the AL in stolen bases (39 in 1906). After taking a year off at the turn of the century, Anderson came back in 1901 for Milwaukee in the American League (the first year the AL was considered a major league). In the AL’s inaugural season, Anderson was one of its best batsmen, and he posted career-highs for himself in RBIs (99) and average (.330).

In his final seven seasons, Anderson suited up for the St. Louis Browns, New York Highlanders, and the Washington Senators before wrapping up his career as a Chicago White Sox in 1908. His career numbers: .290 average, 49 home runs, 976 RBIs in 1635 games.

First Swede – Charlie Hallstrom (Debut: September 23rd, 1885 with the Providence Grays)
In the midst of a five-game series with the Chicago White Stockings (4 in Chicago, 1 in Providence), the Greys ran short on pitching. So on the 23rd of September, they recruited local amateur player Charlie Hallstrom to pitch for them. When the 21-year-old took the the mound at West Side Grounds, not only was he making his professional debut, he became the first Swedish-born baseball player to play in the major leagues.

Hallstrom’s debut wasn’t overly successful. He gave up 11 earned runs off 18 hits over nine innings of play in a game Chicago won 16-8. It also turned out to be his last major league start for Hallstrom. He spent the following three years in the minor leagues before hanging up his cleats for good in 1888.

First Finn – John Michaelson (Debut: August 28th, 1921 with the Chicago White Sox)
Michaelson, born in Taivalkoski, Finland, made his major league debut for the White Sox as the third pitcher used in Chicago’s 6-5 loss to Boston on August 28th, retiring the only two batters he saw. Two days later, Michaelson’s next appearance didn’t go as well. In two innings of work, the short right-hander gave up three runs to the opposing St. Louis Browns. That turned out to be Michaelson’s last major league appearance as he was released by the White Sox just a few days later.


One Response to “First Europeans to Play in the Majors”
  1. Cliff Blau says:

    John Anderson didn’t take the year off in 1900. He was playing for Milwaukee in the American League.

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