H/T Pierre Maura,
Le Monde has a very interesting article regarding the trajectory of diffusion of baseball around the world and the national social contexts that made baseball attractive (or unattractive) outside of the United States. The article is based on an interview with Peter Marquis who just completed a thesis on the subject.
So, for instance, Marquis explained the fact that baseball never took root in France because of the popularity of other sports, such as soccer (or rugby as well I would add), because of the persistent anti-Americanism, and because American immigrants in France tend to be intellectuals and artists. Whatever baseball teams there are in France were more the product of immigration from Quebec.
On the other hand, Italy and the Netherlands have solid baseball teams. Why is that? In the case of Italy, American occupation after WWII is the main explanation for the popularity of baseball in the post-War era, reinforced by the presence of well-known and popular Italian-American players (Joe Di Maggio) and large immigration. This popularity is no longer the case anymore. For the Netherlands, it has more to do with colonialism and the proximity with cricket-playing British teams. It is in the Dutch Antilles that one can trace the roots of this.
One would think that American occupation is also the main explanation for the strong presence of baseball in Japan. Actually, baseball was introduced there in the 19th Century, at the beginning of the Meiji Era. The Japanese reformers used baseball to open their country to the world but they also saw cultural similarities between baseball and samurai skills and spirit.
And then there is Cuba. Is it military presence as well? Not so. Baseball takes root in 1860 thanks to Cuban exchange students who came back to Cuba as well as American sailors. In addition, baseball was played in opposition to bullfighting, perceived as the symbol of Spanish colonization. Decolonization movements used baseball as a symbol of equality and freedom. As a result, Cuban baseball was always open to black players, as opposed to the US where desegregation only occurred in 1947. So, some African American players from the Negro Leagues would migrate to Cuba to play there, in the national leagues. As Marquis notes, in the 1950s, the Cincinnati Reds even had a branch in Havana, named the Sugar Kings. All this came to an end with the Castrist revolution. This was the end of professional leagues and a return to amateur leagues. At the same time, in the context of the Cold War, Cuban baseball was also used as a provocation: beat the US at their own game.
What this all shows is that whether or not a foreign sport is adopted or rejected has a lot to do with national culture, international cultural relations. As with any type of diffusion, adopting societies might also transform the sport to their own society and change a few rules (as is the case for Japanese baseball). In any events, cultural debate determines whether the sport gets adopted (and in what form) or rejected.
Marquis emphasizes the importance of the media in these cultural discussions. Any nation wants a strong national team especially if that team can distinguish itself in a foreign sport. So, there is no singular trajectory of cultural diffusion from the originating society to the recipient society. Each cultural practice gets translated, adapted or rejected based on a variety of social and cultural factors.