The World Baseball Not-So-Classic

John BotelhoCorrespondent IIFebruary 25, 2009

The World Baseball Classic starts next week and is supposed to determine which team has the best baseball talent in the world.

It’s supposed to prove who has more offensive clout, which pitchers are the most dominant, and what country can beat all the others. The tournament is supposed to be a collection of each country’s finest—the stars of respective nations aligning for a world war of baseball.

Much like soccer’s World Cup, when this “Classic” event concludes everyone on the planet should know who baseball’s true “world” champion is.

However, the problem is this tournament is ultimately an exhibition. It counts for very little and proves even less about baseball superiority. The reasoning is simple—the tournament is anything but a classic as many of the most elite players on the planet will be absent.

Many stars will not appear when the various countries take the field over the next few weeks. Players will be missing for a variety of reason ranging from recovering from injury, MLB parent clubs not allowing them to participate, not wanting to be absent from spring training, or simply just not wanting to participate in games during the offseason.

The players absent effect many of the countries involved and the star-studded list of those M.I.A. includes both hitters and pitchers. Throughout the tournament many teams will be effected by these missing athletes—from powerhouse countries considered favorites to win to the lower level teams who often fill the final spots on their roster with national players who don’t even play minor league baseball.

Without putting much effort, it’s easy to realize a number of names missing from teams' rosters. Players that would without a doubt make their respective countries chances in this event better.

Team USA is one of two rosters that in made up entirely of big league talent. They have some incredible arms in their rotation including Jake Peavy, Roy Oswalt, and Joe Nathan.  However it is very clear that some All-Star names are missing.

Instead of seeing the likes of Jon Papelbon, Roy Halladay, and Brandon Webb, guys like Ted Lilly and Matt Thornton will drape a U-S-A uniform across their chest. Their outfield will be sporting either Brad Hawpe or Curtis Granderson along with Ryan Braun and Grady Sizemore. While both Hawpe and Granderson are very talented players, they pail in comparison to some missing Americans such as Josh Hamilton and Matt Holliday.

The Dominican Republic is the only other roster made up of all Major Leaguers, which immediately makes them one of the favorites to capture the “world championship.”

And sure, things looked great for them when A-Rod decided to jump ship from Team USA and represent the country of his parents. However, they’re also missing arguably not only their two best hitters, but the two best in the MLB. Manny Ramirez and Albert Pujols will both be elsewhere, as useful to their home country as a cracked fungo bat.

Team Venezuela found out this week that they will be without some of the best talent their country has to offer. Entering the week with a projected rotation that included former Cy Young winner Johan Santana and Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano—a formidable 1-2 punch-Venezuelan fans had reason to believe they could compete with anyone.

With “King” Felix Hernandez, Armando Galarraga, and Carlos Silva behind them, Venezuela was one of the few countries that could boast a starting five made up entirely of big league arms and had positioned themselves to make a run at the tournament’s title. They found out that both Santana and Zambrano would remain with their MLB teams during spring training causing their pitching rotation—and team—to take a serious blow.

It goes on and on from there as quality players are absent from teams the way underachievers are from class on exam day.

Japan will be without two former big league all-stars—Hideki Matsui and Hideki Okajima—as well as other MLB players Kuroki Kuroda and Kosuke Fukudome. Canada is going to be devoid of Erik Bedard and Italy’s Mike Napoli and Robert Fick will both spend the next few weeks at their respective spring training sites instead of wearing their native colors.

This event should be Major League Baseball’s showcase to the world to prove how good countries really are.

No this isn’t the Olympics, and the timing is tough considering it occurs during the MLB’s spring training, but the tournament still claims to crown a champion of the world.

Crowning a champion of the world should mean just that as opposed to the pseudo-champion we’re left with.

Until baseball gets its act together and has players and teams fully commit to their support to the WBC, this tournament will continue to resemble glorified spring training games and be anything but classic.