If you knew nothing about the Dominican Republic and Venezuela except what they've contributed to the big leagues, you would assume they own a mammoth portion of the world map, not the small specks they occupy in reality.
The Dominican Republic has a population of about 10 million -- or roughly the same as the state of Georgia -- and yet its exports made up 9.5 percent of Opening Day rosters last year. Venezuela is larger, at a population of 30 million, but still not large enough to account for the fact that 7.9 percent of last year's Opening Day rosters came from there. The people of the D.R. and Venezuela love this sport with a passion that is palpable, and the World Baseball Classic thankfully gives us a window into that world.
In advance of their much-anticipated Pool F meeting in the Classic on Thursday night at Petco Park (10 p.m. ET, MLB Network and MLB.TV) and in celebration of their outsized impact on the Major Leagues over the years, we present to you our picks for the all-time teams from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
Forget place of birth. These are simply two of the greatest hitters ever, and we've been fortunate to witness them.
The real difficulty, when all is said and done, might be deciding which of these Hall of Fame locks had the better career. Pujols' 11-year run in St. Louis -- in which he had a .328/.420/.617 slash line with 445 homers, 455 doubles and 1,329 RBIs in 1,705 games through his age-31 season -- has no recent parallel. Cabrera, by comparison, had a .320/.396/.564 slash line with 390 homers, 464 doubles and 1,369 RBIs in 1,819 games through age 31.
But Cabrera seems to be aging better than Pujols has. Pujols had an .823 OPS, 47 homers, 69 doubles and 169 RBIs in 253 games over his age-32 and age-33 seasons in Anaheim. Cabrera, who is entering his age-34 season, had a .964 OPS with 56 homers, 59 doubles and 184 RBIs in 277 games the past two years.
Cano's power resurgence last season -- the first year in which he shook off the Safeco Field effects and put up numbers akin to what he used to routinely crank out in pinstripes -- was fun to watch and added to his potential Cooperstown credentials. He enters 2017 ranking 16th all-time in Baseball Reference's Wins Above Replacement calculation for a second baseman.
But while Cano's 2016 was tremendous, it was Altuve who won the American League Silver Slugger Award for the third straight year. For the second time in three years, he won the batting title, and his .928 OPS and 154 OPS+ were both career-best marks. The little hit machine keeps humming along.
Dominican Republic: Miguel Tejada
Venezuela: Luis Aparicio
Key Big Red Machine cog Dave Concepcion and Team Venezuela skipper Omar Vizquel make this an impossible choice on the Venezuelan side. But when in doubt, defer to the Hall of Famer and the forebearer. Aparacio set the standard at the position by winning nine Gold Gloves, leading the AL in steals nine straight years and finishing as the runner-up in the 1959 AL MVP Award race. If you prefer to give the edge here to Omar on account of his exceptional longevity (he won 11 Gold Gloves in his 24 seasons, and his 2,877 hits are the most ever for a Venezuelan player, until Cabrera catches him) or to Concepcion on account of his importance to one of the greatest teams of all-time, have at it. Just know that Concepcion and Vizquel grew up wanting to be Aparicio.
The Dominican choice isn't quite as complex, but it's still challenging. Tejada is the clear offensive standout with 307 homers, 468 doubles and 1,302 RBIs, and he's got an MVP Award to his name. But if you want to discount him for his PED offense and attachment to that era, Tony Fernandez -- the switch-hitting, sharp-fielding shortstop from San Pedro de Macoris -- is a worthy selection with an almost identical career WAR (45.0 to Tejada's 46.9).
Beltre has logged more games (2,720) than any other Dominican-born player, and he's posted Cooperstown-worthy credentials in the process, with the fourth-most homers (445) and RBIs (1,571), the third-most hits (2,942), the second-most doubles (591) and the fourth-highest bWAR (90.2) all-time among third basemen.
Maybe the timing is awkward to prop up the Panda, as he tries to rebound from a lost 2016. But we'll give him the edge over the other worthy Venezuelan options at third base (Martin Prado and Edgardo Alfonzo) on the might of that 2012 World Series MVP Award and .935 OPS in 39 postseason games.
Dominican Republic: Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa and Vladimir Guerrero
Venezuela: Magglio Ordonez, Bobby Abreu and Carlos Gonzalez
We'll leave it up to our respective managers (who we'll list a little bit later) to decide what to do about center field. Until or unless Cesar Cedeno (D.R.) and Ender Inciarte (Venezuela) come in as late replacements in our imaginary game, this could be a defensive disaster. But you can't argue with the bats!
Manny, Sammy and Vlad combined for 1,613 home runs. Guerrero is likely ticketed for the Hall of Fame next year, having appeared on 71.7 percent of ballots on his first try. Ramirez and Sosa have complicated Cooperstown cases because of the PED stain, but Manny was one of the great right-handed hitters of all time and Sosa is the only player to have three 60-homer seasons.
The Hall won't be calling for any of our Venezuelan selections, but they all hit north of 200 homers with career OPS marks north of .860. CarGo's still cranking in Coors, Abreu has the fourth-most hits (2,470) among Venezuelan-born players and Magglio has gone from getting selected to six All-Star squads to getting elected the mayor of Juan Antonio Sotillo Municipality (and here we thought his former Tigers teammate Sean Casey was The Mayor).
Pena and the Venezuelan-born Salvador Perez have four Gold Gloves and two World Series appearances apiece. Pena ranks sixth all-time in defensive games at catcher (1,950), while Perez won the 2015 World Series MVP Award and remains the heartbeat of the Royals. Pena was an easy call for the D.R., and leaving Perez off the all-time Venezuela team is pretty gut-wrenching.
But leaving Martinez off would be worse. He's one of the best pure hitters of his era and, although he hasn't played catcher regularly since 2010, it is still the spot he's occupied more than any other. V-Mart had a 121 OPS+ during his time as a regular behind the dish. Just like in real life, he's not going to bump Cabrera off first base, and we've got somebody else in mind for DH. So Martinez can suit up at catcher one more time.
Sincerest apologies, Salvy.
Dominican Republic: David Ortiz
Venezuela: Andres Galarraga
Well, we had to get Galarraga in here somewhere. (In truth, we could have put Miggy back at third base, but that would have ruined that fun little Miggy vs. Pujols discussion.) Among Venezuelan-born players, The Big Cat is second only to Miggy in home runs (399) and RBIs (1,425) and deserved better than to be one-and-done on the Hall ballot.
You should be pretty well-versed with Big Papi's bio after last year's retirement run. A lot of us wanted to see him suit up one more time, not in the fake game we're discussing here, but in the real World Baseball Classic.
Dominican Republic: Pedro Martinez
Venezuela: Felix Hernandez
Of all the crazy Pedro stats, a favorite might be the 291 ERA+ -- an all-time high -- in 2000. At the height of the steroid era, when the league ERA was 4.92, Martinez had a 1.74 mark. Not bad for a little guy from Manoguayabo.
While Pedro is the obvious choice for ace, you could round out the Dominican staff with Juan Marichal, Jose Rijo, Johnny Cueto and, of course, Bartolo Colon.
The Venezuelan ace argument is more nuanced. The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner King Felix (3.16 ERA, 126 ERA+ in 2,415 2/3 innings) gets the nod here over two-time winner Johan Santana (3.20 ERA, 136 ERA+ in 2,025 2/3 innings), only because of the way injuries unraveled Santana's career and because Felix is still up and running.
K-Rod's 430 saves and 154 lifetime ERA+ lock him in as Venezuela's all-time greatest reliever, no questions asked.
On the Dominican side, take your pick among Cordero, Armando Benitez, Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Rafael Soriano and Jose Mesa, to name a few. Cordero is the Dominican's all-time saves leader, with 329.
Dominican Republic: Felipe Alou
Venezuela: Ozzie Guillen
Ozzie's the only Venezuelan to manage so much as a full season, so he's the default-but-still-deserving choice, having guided the White Sox to a World Series title 88 years in the making in 2005, and filling up many a reporter's notebook along the way.
Unfortunately for Alou, our all-time team here is just as imaginary as the 1994 World Series, which very well might have included his Expos. But Alou is an easy selection, having won 1,033 games with Montreal and San Francisco. He became the first Dominican-born manager in the Majors in 1992.
The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games in San Diego's Petco Park and the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.