Why Team USA's World Baseball Classic Loss Is No Big Deal

Jake RakeContributor IMarch 24, 2009

In an editorial in The New York Times on Tuesday, William C. Rhoden explores the reasons why the United States’ contingent lost to that of Japan in Sunday night’s semifinal game of the World Baseball Classic, pondering:
“Did the United States lose a semifinal game on Sunday? Or have we lost the game itself?”

William C. Rhoden should probably not be allowed to write about baseball in The New York Times. In addition to violating my biggest journalistic pet peeve by referring to the United States as “we,” Rhoden’s column presents no empirical evidence to support the writer’s point of view, instead relying on folksiness and boring clichés. Worse, by placing emphasis on a single game, Rhoden shows a complete misunderstanding of the game of baseball.

Let’s throw this out there right there: Team USA lost Sunday night’s game because they scored less runs than they allowed to Team Japan, who proved to be a formidable opponent. That’s all.

One game, or even a series of games such as the World Baseball Classic or the Major League playoffs is nothing like an indicator of one team’s superiority or inferiority over another.

The Yankees won 95 games in 2005, but were somehow swept in a three-game series by the lowly Kansas City Royals, who won 56. Were the Royals better than the Yankees in 2005? No, they just played at a comparable level over the course of enough games to have allowed the Yankees to establish themselves as the better team.

Anything can happen in a reasonably evenly matched baseball game; on any given day, Albert Pujols can go 0-for-4 or Mark Whiten could hit four home runs.

Echoing shortstop Jimmy Rollins’ praise for the Japanese team’s ability to put the ball in play rather than hitting home runs, Rhoden observes:

“It was as if the United States was being reintroduced to a game it invented. It has moved to lavish new stadiums and supports lucrative player contracts. It is built on power and entertainment: a deadly combination, we’ve discovered, in an era of performance-enhancing drugs.”

What do lavish stadiums and lucrative player contracts have to do with anything? Is Rhoden implying that American players have somehow become worse at baseball because more people can watch them than ever before and hence, also make more money?

If anything, capitalism and the influx of cash into baseball has made players better, as there is more riding on their performance than at any point in the history of sport: with some exceptions, the best players are on the field for every single Major League game. If a player slips below his expected level of performance, it is just a matter of time before he finds himself out of baseball: Andruw Jones, who now finds himself competing for a spot on the Texas Rangers’ bench, hit 51 home runs just four years ago.

Beyond the nuggets of idiocy noted above, Rhoden’s argument that being eliminated from the World Baseball Classic is somehow symbolic of the United States having “lost” the game of baseball is ridiculous at best, and nationalistic and racist at worst.

As Rhoden himself notes, “Major League Baseball continues to represent the best baseball has to offer, largely because great players from Asia, Central America, South America and North America compete on major league rosters.” Drawing players from a larger pool raises the level competition. Expressing grief over great foreign players showing up Americans is akin to lamenting Tiger Woods’ triumphs in a white man’s game.

Rhoden and anyone else looking to the WBC for answers about where to find the world’s top baseball talent should consider why they are asking that question in the first place. The Major Leagues are comprised of the top players in the world; why does it matter what countries these guys come from, so long as they continue to knock the shit out of the ball and allow the audiences that are willing to support those lavish stadiums and exorbitant player contracts to watch the highest quality baseball in the game’s history?