It’s World Baseball Classic Time! Are You Stoked? Yeah, Neither Am I.
Feb. 12, 2013; Tempe, AZ, USA: Detailed view of a baseball in the dirt during Los Angeles Angels spring training at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
I’ve covered this ground before but I feel I wouldn’t be true to my values if I didn’t give the World Baseball Classic another sound shellacking. Allow me to reiterate my premise: the World Baseball Classic is bad for Major League Baseball. Period. End of story. It’s good for Bud Selig and his cronies who think the rest of the world actually gives much of a rip about baseball. It’s good for MLB revenues and merchandising. It’s good for baseball junkies starved for something approaching real baseball before April 1. Don’t get me wrong. I like a powerful hit of baseball out of the blue as much as the next addict. One, however, has to draw the line somewhere. I’m very certain that the MLB brand will be tarnished long-term by the hype and by event timing so bad it would make the NFL promoters of the Pro Bowl blush.
Sure Japan, Mexico and a few other countries have some righteous passion for the game. Baseball being played anywhere anytime is essentially a good thing. I take issue with the timing and the possibility of injury that an exhibition tournament inflicts on American baseball fans.
July 11, 2012; Reading, PA USA; Member of the Ground Crew dances during the 7th inning during AA Eastern League All-Star game at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Eastern Division defeated the Western Division, 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Now before the cries of racism rise to a shriek so shrill that only a dog can hear them, you’ve got to admit that – at it’s core – baseball is an American game. Baseball was invented in America. It’s where the money is made.
"Baseball’s long, storied history from Cy Young to the Black Sox to Babe Ruth on through Williams, DiMaggio, The Curse of the Bambino, The Curse of the Billy Goat, the Bloody Sock and Mike Trout is a uniquely American story."
America is the cradle of the sport and will always be the foundation of its success. So why would Major League Baseball put so much on the line so close the start of the MLB season?
In a recent ESPN article, Busting The WBC Myth, Jason Stark cogently lays out the facts: The health risks of participating in the World Baseball Classic are more myth than reality. Stark’s piece is excellent. He presents some compelling evidence that those who participate in the WBC and indeed all of Major League Baseball as a whole are statistically less prone to being injured in years when there is a WBC tournament. That is unless that one big injury that’s lurking out there is your franchise guy on your team. Nevertheless, as Mark Twain said, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” So to Stark’s well-researched facts I say pffffftttttt!
During the 2009 WBC both Dustin Pedroia (strained abdomen) and Kevin Youkilis (ankle) got a little nicked up during the WBC. You know what happened? They both had very good seasons. They were durable and hit at or above their career average. OK, OK, OK but my point is…well I don’t quite know what my point is except that the specter of a catastrophic injury is causing many stars to skip the event. This year the WBC will go on with the show without the likes of Trout, Justin Verlander, Bryce Harper or Clayton Kershaw to name a few. You know why? They don’t want to get injured and mess things up for their employer who by the way will pay them a combined $34 million to put butts in seats this summer. There. After writing enough it appears I have finally made my point. Phew, close call on the writer’s edge.
That would be like me entering a writing tournament and getting so burnt out that when I returned to Bosox Injection I had tunnel carpal syndrome and writer’s block and couldn’t produce anymore. Yeah, the scale is slightly different but you get my point.
The second bone to pick is the timing of the event. How can I put this delicately? It sucks. Staging an international tournament during spring training when teams are supposed to be coming together as a unit to face the upcoming 162 game war of attrition is just plain thick-headed. The tournament is a greed-filled marketing machine for Major League Baseball that doesn’t take into account the intimacy baseball fans enjoy with their team and it’s players before the regular season starts.
February 21, 2013; Maryvale, AZ, USA; Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun (8) signs autographs for fans during spring training at Maryvale Baseball Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
If the promoters of the WBC really cared about the game of baseball they’d close up their tent, put the snake oil away and let the showmen get back to the main event under the big tops in Florida and Arizona. Spring training is a time when fans can actually get up close and personal with big leaguers in a way unmatched by any sport. Football and basketball have no spring training equivalent. Fans from Fort Myers to Scottsdale will get unprecedented access to ballplayers over the next two months and it binds them to their team. They can kibbutz across the fence during warm up and after a session. They can actually talk with professional baseball players. That’s some special sauce the MLB should not mess with.
Some Major League ball clubs are pushing back. Just the other day the Cincinnati Reds drew a line in the sand by blocking ace Johnny Cueto from pitching for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. Sure they did it on a technicality – Cueto strained his right oblique during last October’s division series against San Francisco and finished the year with an injury – giving the Reds the right to block him from playing.
With some of the game’s biggest stars opting out and with Major League Baseball franchises protecting their on the field product by blocking players when they can, MLB management needs to take off the blinders, dig the dollar bills out of their ears and start dancing with who brought them to the dance in the first place.
Money, it’s a gas
Grab that cash with both hands
And make a stash
New car, caviar, four star daydream
Think I’ll buy me a football team
– Money, Pink Floyd