May 29 • 17M

We Can Pod It Out 121: Back In The USSR

Unless there's a 32-year-old unknown prospect somewhere out there, the USSR produced exactly one Major League Baseball player

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Back in the old days, there were a few ex-pats who had come from what became the Soviet Union, and may have been during their careers — Eddie Ainsmith was born in Russia, but came to America and went to high school in New Hampshire before becoming a catcher for the Washington Senators from 1910-18, and then on to the Tigers, Cardinals, Brooklyn Dodgers, and New York Giants through 1924. Ukrainians Reuben Ewing (1921 Cardinals) and Izzy Goldstein (1932 Tigers), and Latvian Joe Zapustas (1933 Philadelphia A’s), all played in the majors after the Russian Revolution, but were born before it.

Similarly, Dovydas Neverauskas was born in Vilnius in January 1993, nearly three years after independence was restored in Lithuania. Neverauskas, who went 1-4 with a 6.81 ERA with the Pirates in 76 relief appearances from 2017-20, is currently on the inactive list for Frederick in the Atlantic League, where the nickname-free team also is where Starlin Castro, Jimmy Paredes, and former nominative determinism prospect Johnni Turbo (career 290 stolen bases in 1,348 minor league games, but 86 times caught stealing, reaching Triple-A with the Angels and Orioles) can now be found.

But the actual USSR? Only one major leaguer was born there: Victor Cole, born in Leningrad on January 23, 1968, and author of a scoreless inning against the Mets on June 6, 1992. Unfortunately for Cole, he was then asked to pitch another inning, and after getting Todd Hundley to ground out, he served up a ground-rule double to Sid Fernandez, a walk to Vince Coleman, a single to Willie Randolph, and a bases loaded walk to Howard Johnson before Dennis Lamp came in and allowed those inherited runners to all score, on hits by Eddie Murray and Bobby Bonilla.

Cole pitched seven more times for the Pirates, making four starts and going 0-2 with a 5.48 ERA. Cole started the next year back on the farm, and wound up pitching in the farm systems of the Brewers, Royals, Padres, Cubs, and Cardinals, along with stints in Mexico and Korea. He was just as well-traveled before even setting foot on a baseball field. After Cole was born, his family moved to Sierra Leone and Canada before arriving in America at 10. He might go back to his birthplace to check it out, but he’ll never be…