On Friday, ESPN.com's Jayson Stark enlightened us with his method to "fix" the World Baseball Classic. Now it's my turn.
Before I start, I want to say that I like Stark's ideas (and those of Buck Martinez, the anonymous manager, and Jim Fregosi, as mentioned in his article). But given the numerous injuries so far in this year's tournament, I think my plan is pretty practical.
First and foremost, the Classic should absolutely begin after the World Series, NOT during Spring Training. There are a handful of reasons for this change, not the least of which is the symbolic meaning spring training holds for ALL Major League Baseball fans.
Spring training is the time when baseball fans come out of hibernation, start fantasy drafts, and begin looking at how good (or bad) their team will be. It is very difficult to make these predictions when some of the top players in the game are playing all around the world. As Stark mentions, it's difficult for most fans to focus on their MLB team/players, along with their WBC team/players.
Furthermore, spring training is meant to be a time for players to gain the chemistry they will need for the next six months. This is particularly true for players on a new team (i.e. Francisco Rodriguez). How are K-Rod and David Wright suppose to "gel" as new teammates on the New York Mets when one is playing for Team USA and the other for Venezuela?
Another reason for the Classic to begin in October is injuries. Ryan Braun, Chipper Jones, Dustin Pedroia, Wright, Kevin Youkilis, Matt Lindstrom, and Alfredo Amezaga are only the known players to be injured thus far in the tournament. Some of these players may be forced to miss the beginning of the regular season, which is a shame.
If the Classic were held right after the World Series, any injuries will likely not affect the beginning of the next season, as the player would have the entire offseason to recuperate.
Some may argue that players are "burned out" or not in "baseball form" in October/November. My answer is, the players who are NOT in the postseason join their respective WBC teams for workouts as soon as their season ends (you can even make a case for players on teams that are WAY out of contention to leave their MLB teams even earlier). This way they remain in baseball form.
Players on teams that are in the postseason will remain in baseball form and should have no problem with playing two to three more weeks of baseball (in lieu of Winter Leagues?).
I also feel that the tournament is far too long, and if takes place after the World Series, it may need to be shortened. So, make the tournament single elimination—you lose, you're out. OR, in the years between each tournament, conduct qualifying matches. This way, perhaps, the World Baseball Classic will be a true match of the BEST baseball teams in the world. We won't have the South Africas or Australias in the tourney, unless they qualify.
Finally, to improve the viewership of the tournament, perhaps there is a way for MLB owners to include WBC clauses in their players' contracts. Something like a bonus $10,000 for a WBC finals appearance, for example. If a player is motivated with money to play in the WBC, maybe we will see some more of the top athletes participate, which would draw more people in.
Within that clause, maybe include a portion pertaining to injuries. If a player gets injured while playing for the WBC, his MLB team is not liable.
I do not believe there is ONE way to fix the WBC. But I do believe it needs to be fixed. After seeing quality MLB players drop like flies with injuries this year, there will be some sincere hesitation from owners and players when the next Classic comes around. Owners may restrict who can go even more, while more players may decline invitations.
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