After well over 2,000 games played, Monday night Vladimir Guerrero passed Julio Franco as the all-time hits leader among Dominican-born players. Career hit 2,587 came 16 years after his first, and if it's surprising that Guerrero is on top of his country, given all of the talent that has come out of it, there is an explanation for it.
Dominating players from the Dominican are a recent trend. Of the top 20 in hits out of the Dominican, 11 entered the game after 1993. Carlos Peña, with 258 career homers, ranks #11 all-time among Dominican sluggers, and the earliest entry in the top 10 is from 1989 (Sammy Sosa). The lone Hall of Famer from the Dominican is Juan Marichal, who was striking out hitters before many of today's Dominican stars were born.
There have been more Dominican-born players in the majors than from any country except the United States, though, so even if most of the success is recent, this is an admirable accomplishment. Historically, the numbers are staggeringly in the United States' favor, as 15,583 players in the history of the game have been born there; again, the 542 players from the Dominican ranks second.
The international flavoring of the game continues to increase, though, and many nations have produced enough players to create leader boards that rival those of the Dominican Republic.
Venezuela, 270 players: The all-time hits leader from Venezuela isn't their lone Hall of Fame representative, Luis Aparicio. It also isn't Bobby Abreu, who just a few years ago looked like he might be heading there. The all-time leader is light-hitting shortstop and 44-year-old defensive specialist Omar Vizquel, with 2,841 hits. He may not get to hold on to that record forever, though, as Miguel Cabrera -- just 28 years old and only 1,248 hits behind -- already looms large.
Canada, 236 players: When Canadian baseball players are good, they are great. This country has produced Justin Morneau, Joey Votto, Jason Bay, Matt Stairs, and, of course, the country's all-time hits leader, Larry Walker. For his career, Walker hit .313/.400/.565 with 383 homers, five All-Star trips, an MVP, multiple Gold Gloves that his ridiculous arm legitimately earned him, and the current distinction of being the Canadian closest to making it to Cooperstown without buying a ticket.
Puerto Rico, 234 players: The island boasts three Cooperstown members at present, with most recent inductee Roberto Alomar placing third on the all-time hits list, ahead of fellow member Orlando Cepeda, but behind likely future Hall of Famer, Ivan Rodriguez. It's Roberto Clemente and his 3,000 hits that lead this country, though. If not for his untimely death, he'd likely be the international leader overall, not just for Puerto Rico.
Cuba, 169 players: The current all-time international leader is Rafael Palmeiro, as his 3,020 hits (and 569 homers) vaulted him to the top of his country's leader board. Cuba also has just one Hall of Famer, with former Big Red Machine cog Tony Perez elected by the BBWAA back in 2000.
Mexico, 112 players: Mexico is the last of the countries with at least 100 players produced. Offense has not been their most significant export, though: Vinny Castilla, with 1,884 hits, leads the pack. Not to diminish what he did, either, but more than half of those came from his years playing above altitude in Denver. At this rate, Yovani Gallardo may finish as one of the nation's top hitters as well as pitchers, as he currently ranks 31st ever in hits by a Mexican-born player with 52, just 329 out of the top 10. Another pitcher, Fernando Valenzuela, ranks 17th. As Steve Nebraska wasn't born in Mexico, his numbers don't count. Also, he's not real
Many other countries have had players in the majors, but none in these kinds of numbers. Colombia has had just 10, but two of those (Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera) have over 2,000 career hits apiece. Carlos Lee has over 2,000 hits for Panama, the only one of 48 players born there to boast that. Chan Ho Park ranks third on South Korea's all-time hit list with 77, but 28-year-old Shin-Soo Choo looks to be the first with a significant career at the plate. Japan has 52 players with MLB experience, the most famous hitters being Ichiro Suzuki (another 2,000 hit player), Hideki Matsui (1,237 hits, 173 homers), and Dave Roberts (243 steals, including The Steal in 2004).
Then there are your Finlands of the world, with one player ever (John Michaelson) who appeared in two games, throwing 2⅔ innings in 1921, but never picked up a bat. Or Craig Stansberry, the lone Saudi Arabian-born player, who had just 29 plate appearances over three seasons and picked up eight hits. Of course, the Dominican wasn't producing major league players at one point, either, as everyone has to start somewhere.
As the game becomes more international, there will be more Vlad Guerreros of the world, and likely from unexpected places, as the Dominican would have been considered decades ago. If Vlad's career is any indication, that's a good thing.