So Should We Care About the World Baseball Classic?
by, 03-16-2013 at 07:34 PM (443 Views)
As I write this I am reading that the United States has crashed out of the World Baseball Classic (again) and will end up officially in 6th place Ė just below Cuba. I find myself of two minds about this. On the one hand, I share the understandable disappointment in the results. On the other, I find myself wondering if I should even care. After all, if MLB and the MLBPA donít take this tournament seriously, why should I?
Let me back up a bit and explain why I make that admittedly unfair statement (that MLB & MLBPA donít care). Yes, the game has indeed gone international, and MLB-caliber players are now found in many different countries. Yes, a tournament of this nature is often decided by who is hottest and not who is best. Yes, it takes place in the spring before the US players are back in prime playing shape. Yet I still feel we should be doing better Ė after three tournaments, the US has never finished higher than fourth.
For me, the answer is simple Ė weíre not playing our best team. Granted, the team is much improved compared to previous iterations, and participants such as Joe Mauer and Ryan Braun show that interest is picking up, but the US roster is still notable more for who is not present than who is. It reminds me of Olympic basketball. For years, we dominated internationally one of the games we created. Then we stopped getting the results because the quality of play internationally improved to the point where our collegiate athletes could no longer be competitive. It wasnít until the Bird-Jordan-Johnson dream team that we regained our dominance.
Thatís where I think we are in the World Baseball Classic. If weíre going to take this tournament seriously, than itís time to send out our A-team and not just those willing to play. MLB & MLBPA have said they want this to become like the soccer World Cup. That will never happen until every country puts out their best players, and not just the best players who choose to participate. In soccer, FIFA regulations require clubs to make players available for international duty. As a result, the top players virtually all participate in their quadrennial classic, and hence the interest around the world.
Now, I recognize that the structure of baseball is different than the structure of association football. I know that players can not be compelled to play, nor do I think MLB & MLBPA should try. But unless more efforts are made to encourage/cajole/entice a higher level of participation from our best players, this tournament will never fulfill the dream itís creators have for it. And until that happens, I just have to keep asking myself the question Ė should I even care?