The following is a compilation of my blog posts from the last few weeks.
I had the good fortune of working as the Press Liaison for Team Italy at the recently completed World Baseball Classic. Highlights from my trip include meeting Curtis Granderson (one of my favorite players), watching Italy beat Canada in Toronto, and being in the press box to hear Peter Gammons leave a voicemail for Scott Boras.
Other baseball people I met include Mike Piazza, Mike Hargrove, Tom Trebelhorn, Jeff Conine, Omar Minaya, and Jeremy Guthrie. I rode an elevator at the Rogers Centre with Larry Walker and Justin Morneau, who were heading to a Toronto Maple Leafs game after Team Canada’s loss to the United States in the opening game.
At various points, I found myself just a few feet away from Derek Jeter, Dustin Pedroia, Chipper Jones, and Andres Galarraga.
As a fan, there are a number of things I think need to be changed about the WBC.
First of all, a team should have to beat two of the other teams in its first bracket to advance. Venezuela should not have moved on to Round 2 simply by beating the same team twice, especially a team like Italy that has so many fewer major leaguers.
That they beat the U.S. in their second try doesn’t count for much because there was little pressure to win, as the only thing on the line was seeding in Miami.
Secondly, all participating countries need to have their best players participate to make the WBC what it should be. Team Canada was sorely lacking in the pitching department, as Rich Harden, Erik Bedard, and Jeff Francis are all recovering from injuries (Francis just had surgery and is expected to miss all of 2009) and Ryan Dempster reportedly declined an invitation to play for the Canadians.
Team Canada’s best pitcher, Scott Richmond didn’t throw a single pitch in the Classic because he was being saved for a game that his team didn’t even get to play.
Finally, unless the attendance will be higher in a city that has a domed stadium (e.g. Tokyo) than it would be elsewhere, WBC games should not be played indoors. Baseball was meant to be played outdoors; the only good reason for it to be played in a dome is when the climate makes indoor baseball the only option.
Canada in March is one of those instances, so Toronto should not have been chosen as a host city for the Classic. That said, if the Rogers Centre had drawn big crowds to each game it hosted then one could argue that the benefit outweighed the cost.
Unfortunately, Toronto did not draw even close to enough fans to demonstrate that they deserve to host any round of the WBC again. The only game at which even half the seats were filled was the opening game between the United States and Canada, which drew 42,000 fans, nearly 30,000 more than each of the other games.
I don’t know what the players on most of the World Baseball Classic teams were thinking during the tournament, but the players on Team Italy really wanted to win. The WBC wasn’t spring training for most of them, like it was for the United States. I’m not suggesting the Americans did not try as hard as everyone else, but each of Team U.S.’s players knew he had a great job to go back to when the WBC was over. Some of the players on the Italian roster, by contrast, were auditioning for big-league or even minor league jobs.
One of the purposes of the WBC is to generate interest in baseball in countries where the game is not as popular in the hopes of developing young athletes into major league ballplayers. The biggest success stories in this regard were the victories by the Italians and the Dutch.
While Italy stunned (and eliminated) Canada in their first round matchup, the Netherlands shocked the entire baseball world by beating the Dominican Republic not once but twice, and nearly beating Puerto Rico as well.
The Dominicans clearly did not play their best baseball, but the Dutch deserve a lot of credit. Even after falling behind in the top of the 11th inning of their elimination game, the Netherlands came back to score two runs in the bottom of the 11th to move on to Round 2 of the WBC.
As I mentioned, for the World Baseball Classic to be everything it should be each team’s roster must include the best players from that country. What I’d like to add is that each team’s manager must treat the WBC like the postseason and do everything it takes to be the last team standing.
Unfortunately, Davey Johnson was more concerned with making all of his players happy. ESPN’s Jim Caple hit the nail on the head with Mistakes made, starting with Johnson.
While it cannot be said with any certainty that another manager would have led the United States to victory over Team Japan in the semifinals, Davey Johnson’s inexplicable decisions may have cost his team a trip to the WBC championship game against Korea.
One suggestion I have for the next WBC would be to fix the schedule so that teams that reach the later rounds must face more than just a few opponents. Team Japan played just four other countries; China, Korea, Cuba, and the United States en route to their 2nd straight WBC title.
In particular, it seems excessive that in such a short tournament Japan and Korea played each other five times. That's more than half of the nine total games each team played in the entire WBC.
As fun as the WBC was, I’m ready for the regular season to begin. My favorite opening day quote belongs to Jim Leyland from his managing days with the Pirates: “I knew I was in for a long year when we lined up for the national anthem on opening day and one of my players said, 'Every time I hear that song I have a bad game.'"