World Baseball Classic: Change in Attitude Needed for US Triumph

Nick DeWitt@@nickdewitt11Analyst IMarch 24, 2009

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 22: Starting pitcher Roy Oswalt #44 of the United States drops his head after giving up the third run of the fourth inning against Japan in the semifinal game of the 2009 World Baseball Classic on March 22, 2009 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

It wasn't supposed to be like this.

Team USA, built to win—even dominate—World Baseball Classic competition wasn't supposed to end up an also-ran. 

But thanks to another shortsighted attempt at organizing the Unites States' biggest stars, that's exactly what happened.

The Japanese and South Korean entries into the WBC had a lot more than just talent over the US team. They had attitude to go with that talent.

If there was every something that Team USA, top to bottom, lacked, it's attitude.

Davey Johnson, on paper, looks like a great choice to manage a team of US All Stars.  He's got the playoff and World Series credentials. He was a good but not great major league player in his day. 

He even got the last ever hit off of Sandy Koufax. What's not to like?

How about the fact that he routinely mismanaged his pitching staff throughout the classic?

What about replacing injured players?

What about coaching a consistent style of play?

Major league teams all play their own specific style of baseball. The Chicago White Sox, when they won the World Series in 2005, were a small-ball team. They won with adequate power, strong starting pitching, and great baserunning.

In some games, Team USA was a running team like those White Sox. In others, they tried to be a power team. In a few others, they tried to stage a pitching duel. Where's the consistency?

Replacing injured players shouldn't fall solely on Johnson. The team's management also failed to call up players such as Derek Lee when the going got tough and instead robbed the team of its bench. 

The mismanagement of the pitching staff was at its unparalleled worst in the semifinal game against Japan. 

Roy Oswalt, the stalwart of the pitching staff, was on his game through two innings, then started to show signs of weakness in the third. In the fourth, he fell apart. 

Fair enough. Rough outings happen. But if you are trying to win a game, you have to get the guy off the mound before he destroys your chances to win.

Johnson's reasoning? He didn't know that John Grabow would take longer to warm up in cold weather. Sorry, that doesn't fly. You've been with these guys for over a month now. You know their strengths and weaknesses. Plus, you knew it was going to be cold. 

Somewhere in there doesn't your mind remind you to find out who's capable of warming up fast in the cold or at least finding out how long it takes your star relievers to get ready when its not summer outside?

Johnson wasn't a failure as manager. Getting a team like this into the semifinals is an achievement. The problem is that Johnson was a primary reason they limped into that position and then folded like a cheap card.

The real failure wasn't even from the players or coaches on the field. It was from those who didn't make the trip or were not permitted to go.

Remember that whole attitude discussion from a few paragraphs up? That's the problem. 

The players who took the field in Red, White, and Blue don't have the problem.  The players who stayed home do.  So do the teams that wouldn't let their stars play. In Japan and Korea, I can't imagine that they don't want the biggest names playing. In the USA, it's all about getting ready for "real baseball" in the "real MLB season." 

Since when did the excellent displays of this year's WBC become fake baseball? 

Jamsil Stadium in Seoul, South Korea was packed last night. Could you see Dodger Stadium packed to the lights if Team USA were playing in Korea for the WBC Championship?

I can't.

Until the absolute best players play and are managed by the absolute best manager and coaches available, Team USA will not make its presence felt in the finals and fans will not go out of their way to embrace the game. 

Ryan Dempster wanted to prepare for his second full year as a starter with the Cubs. 

That excuse is the first one that comes to mind from a litany of excuses from players and teams who just couldn't tear themselves away from scintillating Spring Training ball.

Roy Oswalt left the Astros to play in this tournament. He started his throwing program early so that he'd be ready without diminishing his ability to pitch in the regular season. He showed up pretty well until that third and fourth inning debacle against Japan.

He'll be ready to start Opening Day for Houston. He'll probably be in a good position to win 15-20 games this year. 

So many stars stayed home. Where were Dempster, Lance Berkman, Mark Teixeira, and the other big names at?

As a fan, I was appalled to hear that the Atlanta Braves were "not in favor" of Brian McCann, their star catcher, appearing at first base if needed to prevent Team USA from forfeiting a game.

One game at first isn't going to ruin his season or his career. You'd rather your national team forfeit a win or go home semifinal game?

Teams from Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, the Dominican, and everywhere else came out this year to play with spunk, style, and talent.

They also came with the backing of their country and the professional league or leagues back home.

Team USA came to play with outdated and slipshod tactics, only some of the best players, and very little, inconsistent backing from Major League Baseball.

I hope its different in 2013.  Baseball, as we know it, originated in the United States.  It'd be nice if the team representing baseball's lineage could win a baseball tournament.