Come To Think of It: What We've Learned from the World Baseball Classic
In sports, as in life, some things are obvious, some require an explanation, and other things are just plain silly.
1. The Strong Arm of the WBC Mafia is Alive and Well
It's one thing to promote the World Baseball Classic. It's quite another thing to force feed it to the players. Yet that's exactly what players who didn't want to participate in the games experienced.
In fact, we saw three local examples here in Chicago.
When Carlos Marmol, fighting for the closer's job with the Cubs and fresh off of consecutive appearances in the Dominican playoffs, said he wasn't going to play in the WBC, that decision didn't go over well with fellow countrymen. Marmol faced such peer pressure that he quickly relented, and ended up enlisting in the WBC "army."
Another example was when Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster refused to play for Canada. Players and former players from Canada, most notably Larry Walker, publicly took Dempster to task for his decision.
Yet Dempster's explanation made a lot of sense—the Cubs had committed a truckload of money to him in the offseason and so he felt his loyalty was with his MLB team. Hard to argue with that logic.
But the most compelling example of how MLB's WBC army attacked was felt by Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee. I applaud him for going public with how they disrespected his decision not to join Team USA following the injury to Kevin Youkilis.
Lee was just coming back from a quad injury so he wasn't ready to jump into the games. That certainly seems reasonable, except, apparently, to the WBC.
2. The Best Team Isn't in America, but the Best Players Play There
Yes, Team USA wasn't good enough to win the tournament. But many of the world rosters were littered with MLB players and let's face it, regardless of which country they came from, they play their professional ball in the USA.
In fact, the team that won it all, Japan, was loaded with MLB players who made important contributions to the team. From Dice-K and Ichiro, to Kenji Johjima, the best team in the WBC plays many of its games in America.
3. The Games Weren't Half Bad
Despite my indifference, the WBC games that I did bother to watch were actually pretty darn good. What I noticed most was that they play some solid fundamental baseball in many countries. Puerto Rico was nearly flawless throughout the tournament.
Will I go out of my way to watch the next time the games are played? Probably not. But I won't necessarily change the channel if I come across it as I'm running the remote.
4. Yu Darvish is a Pretty Damn Fine Pitcher
Darvish claims not to desire playing in America. He apparently wants to win 200 games in Japan. But if he ever changes his mind, the 22-year-old half-Iranian, half-Japanese pitcher would command a king's ransom for his team if posted.
Darvish packs a 95 mph fastball to go with a devastating slider. At 6'5", he stands above the rest in more ways than one. With his good looks, the marketing opportunities alone in the U.S. would net Darvish some serious coin if he ever came to the big leagues to play.
5. The WBC Offers a Convenient Excuse for Sore Arms and Out of Shape Players
How a player can blame his participation in the WBC for being out of shape is beyond me. Even if he didn't play much, there was nothing stopping him from training to stay in shape.
For example, Cubs catcher Geo Soto looks to be about 600 pounds, which is being blamed on inactivity in the WBC. I say it's spending a winter admiring his ROY trophy, eating bon-bons. It all depends on who you believe.
6. I'm Glad It's Over
Yes, whether you liked the WBC or hated it (or were indifferent like me), we can all agree we're glad it's over so we can get on with the MLB season. Play Ball!
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