World Baseball Classic: Starting the 2009 Season Off with a Bang!

danny perezContributor IFebruary 21, 2009

With Manny still on the block and the offseason crawling along, good baseball is right around the corner, and it seems no one in this country is paying any attention to it. Yes, pitchers and catchers are in camp and Spring Training is just getting under way.

This is not about Spring Training, this is about the World Baseball Classic. How can we not be excited about the World Baseball Classic?

This is the most exciting thing baseball has done for the sport since its beginning. We’ll get to cons, but let’s get excited for a minute.

We’re talking about the biggest names and best players in the league. Check out the rosters.

Stacked! Stars-a-plenty

A few to name:

Beltran. Big Papi. Wright. Rollins. Jeter. Braun. Delgado. Kazmir. K-Rod. Oswalt. Pedro. Putz. Hanley Ramirez. Guerrero. Dise-K. Soriano. Chipper Jones. Morneau. Ichiro. Cabrera. Abreu. McCann. A-Roid (will bring more attention to the tournament now with his coming out party). And so on.

For goodness sake, Fonzie is on the Venezuelan roster. Yes, Edgardo Alfonzo (just signed with the Yomiuri Giants of Japan). It can’t get any better than this!

The star quality playing in the Classic makes the All-Star game seem like a scrimmage. A meaningless exhibition, besides the fact that World Series home field advantage is on the line.

Forget All-Star game. This is All-Star tournament with playoff intensity! Unless you’re a Rays or Phillies fan, this can arguably be more exciting than this past World Series.

How can anyone not be thrilled about watching Dominican Republic go up against United States, or Puerto Rico against Japan? Or watching Cuban all-stars no one knows, guys that would pretty much make most MLB rosters if things were politically different.

When you look at the WBC rosters, it’s easy to see how global baseball really is. If you haven’t noticed, guys really do want to play in the Classic. It’s an honor for them to play for and represent their countries. The U.S. players need to jump on the wagon, and I think they are finally coming around.

In the first Classic, it was evident Team USA took a walk in the park. In three second round games, they would only muster up eight runs and were eliminated before reaching the semifinals.

They underestimated the integrity and enormity of what a true world baseball tournament has the potential to be. Well, it looks as if the spanking did them good. They now have a better sense of what to expect and I believe will play with more veracity.

Our friends Chipper Jones and Jimmy Rollins provided some good insight on the attitude of the team then and now.

(Chipper Jones) "there might have been too many chiefs and not enough Indians…I think some guys thought we were just going to throw the bats and gloves out there on the field and we were just going to crush everybody with the names and the bats that we had on that particular team,"

"We know that good baseball is played in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Dominican and Mexico," Jones said. "Let me tell you something, there's good baseball played over there in those Asian countries as well. They took it to us, and they took it to the whole tournament. They came in, they were ready and nobody pitched as tough as Japan and South Korea the whole tournament.

Having too many ‘chiefs’ equates to egos, although it seems Team USA is taking a different approach this time. I almost jumped out my seat when read what Jimmy Rollins said in reference to Jeter being the starting shortstop. Do I sense some Team USA pride here?

"I have no problem with Derek Jeter being named the starting shortstop…He's a great representative for USA Baseball. It has nothing to do with pride or 'I think I'm better' or 'I think he's better; he should do it.' It has nothing to do with that.

He goes on to say, this is the part where I almost left my seat..
"This is baseball. This is a team. It's not about me and it's not about him. It's about the USA going out there and trying to bring this [Classic] title home. If I was named the starting shortstop, then so be it. I'm just fortunate to be on this team."

Did he just say “I’m fortunate to be on this team”? Did we hear that correctly? I’m honestly shocked to hear this and glad at the same time. Can it be that the US is finally getting it? Egos shouldn’t be an issue on Team USA this time if that’s any indication.

Not only did the players treat the tournament like an all-star game, Team USA was coached that way.

In 2006, then-manager Buck Martinez tried to do the seemingly impossible by attempting to provide many members of his star-studded roster equal playing time while simultaneously aiming to win games against top-caliber opponents who weren't utilizing the same All-Star Game-like approach.

A formula for disaster in the making!

Embracing the tournament is a step in the right direction. Seeing the various approaches to the game from different cultures is great for all.

Although interest by U.S. players to represent USA is higher than in previous years—see Derek Jeter and Dustin Pedroia—there are still guys that don’t see the importance of this and feel to find the need to avoid it for what seem to be selfish reasons.

Some guys that fall into this category are Josh Hamilton, Ryan Dempster, Ryan Howard, Brad Lidge, and Cole Hamels. Good, it gives us more reasons to hate the Phillies, plus we don’t want players that don’t want to be there anyway. Punks!
To each his own and it’s up to the individual players, but there are times that individual clubs put up the block. There’s proof already that players who resisted will in the future regret not playing, just ask Hideki Matsui.

Matsui didn’t play last time around for his loyalty to the Yankees, and now can’t help Japan defend its title due to injury. I’m sure he’s still beating himself up for it and bringing disappointed a masse of Japanese fans since it's most likely his last shot at it.

Dempster is the posterboy for not having any legitimate reasons to play and will not play for Canada because of the contract he signed. He’s healthy, has job security, it’s not a free agent year, and he himself has called the Classic an ‘exhibition tournament’.

It’s just a shame because a team like Canada needs guys like Dempster to bolster their squad. Team USA on the other hand can overcome guys not wanting to play with other quality players, Canada doesn’t have that luxury.

It’s understandable for guys rehabbing injuries and such to not want to play, or being blocked to play by their clubs.
The great thing about the WBC is the competition. This tournament is not lopsided by any means as talent is spread evenly among teams. Of course you have your super stacked teams with Dominican Republic., U.S., Japan, but beware, look out for the Mexico’s, Venezuela’s, Cuba’s of the world.

All teams are coming out with their hearts on their sleeves. Incentives such as having home field advantage in the World Series are not needed in this tournament.

Yes, there’s risk of injury. Of course, MLB clubs are cringing with the high interest of players expressing desire to play in the tournament. Injuries can always happen. We see them in Spring Training, off the field, in taxi’s, something that is sometimes unavoidable.

To limit risk of injury, there are rules that protect both starting pitchers and relievers. In addition to pitch count limits, pitchers who throw at least 30 pitches constitute a mandatory day off, 50 pitches and it’s four days off.

Plus, the whole tournament is not even that many games. The workload is not heavy at all. The most games played were by the finalists, Japan and Cuba, with eight a piece. All other teams played less.

In 2006, Team USA leaders in innings pitched were Clemens with 8.2 and Peavy with eight. They were the only guys with more than six innings pitched on the team and most guys with under three innings pitched, total.
It’s not that much work when you think about it. Granted, Team USA was limited in the number of games played due to being eliminated in the second round and the load would have likely increased some had they advanced further, but not by much.

Yes, the timing in relation to the start of the MLB season stinks. Maybe MLB should think about shortening the season a few games to better accommodate the players and teams. It’s not brain surgery. Soccer leagues accommodate for the World Cup and Olympics. Some sacrifices will need to be made for this tournament to excel, but all worth it in the end.

With all the skepticism it received initially, the WBC proved to be a success the first time around. Attendance was higher than expected in many locations. Ratings did better than expected. More media credentials were issued than the World Series. This should give you a sense of international interest in this and provide hope for a truly globalized baseball world.
MLB should not stop here. We should hope baseball one day gravitates towards a true World Series. One where the Champions from the best leagues go at it, see Little League World Series.

This article is also featured on The Mets Are Better Than Sex
[World Baseball Classic]
U.S. taking team approach for Classic [USA Baseball]
World Baseball Classic 2009 Team USA Team Approach [Ground Report]


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