My dad and I talk sports almost every night. We discuss all the topics of the day. Who signed where, what was said, who won the big games, etc.. He even sends me text messages during the day so he can be the first to break sports news to me. I do the same in return, sending him Chiefs scores when he's away from a TV or computer.
So we were talking last night about the WBC and I was asking him if he would be watching the US National Team play the Netherlands. He answered with a lack-luster "probably not" and proceeded to rip the tournament up one side and down the other. It took me by surprise, as I'd had no idea he disliked the competition so much. I'd enjoyed it three years ago and I was enjoying it again this year. However, he corrected me, saying that he doesn't dislike the WBC. He just finds it to be meaningless and boring.
He has three main issues with the WBC.
Number one: None of the US players are prepared to play. Most of the other teams are coming off of their regular seasons. They have played 80 games leading up to the WBC. It is an unfair advantage because the MLB players that participate are not ready for competition. They're still getting their swing back. So why would you want to watch your heroes get mowed down by guys you've never heard of before. Not to mention, does the average fan believe that if we were to play this competition when our players were ready to play, that we wouldn't dominate every year?
Number two: Winning the WBC doesn't really mean anything... yet. Let's put it this way. If your team wins the world series this year, will you even remember if the US won or lost the WBC this season? You don't care about this. Think about soccer. Club championships are a big deal, but the World Cup? That's the bragging rights for the next four years as the best soccer country in the world. The WBC hasn't established anything like that. It's young and we have to give it time to see if it can attain that. But it's a long way off.
Number three: The players have no incentive to win. They're much more focused on the regular season ahead and not playing for their country. Once again, it is an honor to be invited to play soccer for your country in the World Cup. Their clubs have millions of dollars invested in talented athletes and you don't see them stopping their players. And yet, the MLB players are more focused on their season (as they should be) and many decline to play for the team. Why do we want to watch a tournament that every player isn't dying to compete in?
After we hung up the phone, I began thinking about his solutions for fixing these problems. How could you make this an event that everyone would care about? Did you see the stands in Toronto? The turnout was embarrassing. Not even the US vs. The Netherlands in Miami drew a full crowd for their elimination game. It's a chance to see Roy Oswalt, Jimmy Rollins, Adam Dunn and many other players in their prime, but no one is going.
So the main problem is having the competition in March. Play it in July instead. Instead of having an all star game, have the WBC. Take two weeks off and do this tournament in the middle of our season. All the other countries in the world would be playing as well, so that solves the problem of MLB players being ill prepared for competition.
Another problem arises. Now, the AL and NL teams are complaining because their pitchers are throwing meaningful innings away from their teams in the middle of the season. Solution: Make the season 154 games when competing in the WBC. Now, your pitchers have to make 2 less starts that season. Bingo. He throws the same amount of innings and gets to compete in the WBC.
Let's amend another rule to protect the players as well. Take the roster from 28 to 30 guys. Allow them to have two more pitchers in the bullpen. This reinforces the leagues policy on pitch counts and protecting arms. You've given the team a few more options so they don't feel like they have to push someone deep into a game.
Can these changes happen? Possibly. The WBC is young and they are still searching for their traditions, not to mention memorable plays and games. There are already plans to enlarge the field by 8 teams, going from 16 teams competing to 24. There has also been talk of playing qualifying games during the year leading up to the tournament, next played in 2013. So the thought would be that the WBC is in a place where it can make some drastic changes and not be overturning decades of precedent.
I support the WBC and look forward to this competition growing through out my baseball generation. Baseball is becoming a world sport and it's time all of us take that as a friendly challenge. It's our national pastime, the sport that originated here in the United States. We had better be ready to defend this new title every four years.