Baseball is America’s pastime. The game is played during the blistery summer months extending into October with one team standing as the World Series champions.
It’s also a world game, with numerous countries playing the sport year-round.
The game has certainly garnered widespread attention around the globe, thanks to the World Baseball Classic—a tournament held every four years featuring teams from around the globe.
But Peter Schmuck of The Baltimore Sun believes the WBC serves a greater purpose to the sport.
“It’s supposed to be the World Cup of baseball—the answer to the decision by the [International Olympic Committee] to remove baseball from the Olympics because Major League Baseball refused to interrupt its regular season once every four years to send the best American players to the dance,” Schmuck wrote.
The WBC is a tremendous way to promote the game around the globe. It’s the most prestigious international baseball tournament ever, and the first to incorporate active major league players competing for their native countries.
MLB and its players certainly don’t mind all the attention from the WBC, which is set to begin March 2.
But, it’s time for MLB to ditch the worldwide tournament. It’s time for baseball executives to take a stand using logic and common sense.
Perhaps the most important reason is risk of injury. The WBC carries greater importance because it’s not an annual occurrence. But the involvement of major league players could be costly.
Many bright people within MLB believe that the potential risks of their upcoming season aren’t worth the widespread attention that comes from this global tournament.
Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said, “baseball players have an (internal) clock,” according to The Baltimore Sun.
That internal clock could be altered in a negative way by shuffling the normal spring training period.
“I could stand accused,” Showalter said, according to The Baltimore Sun. “But that’s a real no-no if they [MLB] hear that that’s happening. We present the facts, tell them what’s important, and away they go.”
Playing in the tournament is probably easier for position players. Regulars are able to gain quality at-bats, see dozens of live pitches from future opposing pitchers, get their bat speed up to par and get in the routine of playing every day after spending the last few months away from the game.
A number of position players have seen their production at the plate dwindle after playing in the 2009 WBC.
Former Atlanta Brave and future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones hit just .264 in 2009 after posting a .364 mark in 2008. Braves catcher Brian McCann saw his average dip to .281 in 2009 after hitting .301 in 2008. Boston designated hitter David Ortiz managed a .238 average in 2009 after hitting .264 the season before. Former Cubs catcher Geovany Soto boasted a .218 mark in 2009 after coming off a 2008 season that saw him hit .285 with 23 home runs and 86 RBI. And former Mets shortstop Jose Reyes dealt with multiple leg injuries, limiting him to just 36 games in 2009.
Another drawback from playing in the WBC is the early wear and tear on pitchers and catchers.
The idea of having starting pitchers throw competitively before preparing themselves for the upcoming season is taxing and could prove problematic. Spring training is well underway, but most pitchers slowly pace themselves, something the WBC doesn’t allow.
It’s bizarre to have pitchers forgo their regularly planned spring training schedule to prepare for a spectacle like the WBC, which means next to nothing in terms of the season to come.
Here’s a list of former and current quality starting pitchers who played in the 2009 edition, but faltered over the course of the six-month season.
Cincinnati hurler Johnny Cueto tossed 174 innings and struck out 158 batters in 31 starts in 2008. However, in 2009, Cueto pitched 171.1 innings and recorded 132 strikeouts in 30 starts. Dodgers hurler Ted Lilly worked more than 204 innings and struck out 184 batters in 34 starts in 2008. But the next season Lilly amassed just 177 innings and 151 strikeouts in only 27 starts.
Heralded Red Sox hurler Daisuke Matsuzaka tossed more than 167 innings and tallied 154 strikeouts in 29 starts in 2008. The next season Matsuzaka worked 59.1 innings in 12 starts. Then, news spread that Matsuzaka suffered a leg injury during the 2009 WBC.
Detroit ace Justin Verlander is arguably the best pitcher in the game. The 2011 American League Cy Young Award winner would have easily been Team USA’s best starter. Though, the right-handed hurler declined to partake in next month’s festivities.
“I don’t want to have to feel rushed to catch up to where I need to be,” Verlander told reporters at Detroit’s spring training camp in Florida on Feb. 11, courtesy of Reuters.com.
Verlander threw 266 innings last season after working a 271-inning season in 2011. According to Reuters.com, the fireballer decided he needed to rest his arm instead of overworking it before the season begins.
“I knew it was going to be a long shot the whole time,” Verlander said, courtesy of Reuters.com.
Much like pitchers, catchers are in the same boat. The likes of San Francisco’s Buster Posey and Baltimore’s Matt Wieters passed on their invites to prepare for the long, grueling season to come.
Posey opted for a normal spring training regimen. And, according to CSNBayArea.com, manager Bruce Bochy was more than happy with Posey’s decision.
“Every player has the decision and we respect the decision,” Bochy said. “In our case, sure, we played till November. For a catcher, in particular, that’s a long season—and Buster spent all last offseason rehabbing. He played a lot more games than we thought.
“So I think he’s doing the right thing because he understands how much earlier he’d have to crank it up and be game ready.”
Imagine the devastation Posey would face if, say, he re-injured his surgically repaired left ankle on a bang-bang play at home plate or sliding into second base? Posey is too valuable a player—one who means much more to his team than many people realize—to risk injury.
Wieters started 132 games for Baltimore last season and caught 1,189 innings behind the plate—the most by any American League catcher, according to ESPN.com.
According to Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com, the 26-year-old two-time All-Star forwent invites to play for Team USA, opting to stay put in spring training with the rest of his team.
“I definitely considered it,” Wieters said. “It’s something to where for me as a catcher it’s important for me to get in here and learn the new guys as well as try and just get on the same page with the starters.
“I always think it’s harder for a catcher to be able to miss time in spring training than anybody else.”
Another point to consider is the global benefit MLB receives from playing in the WBC.
This is a multibillion-dollar industry, with revenues soaring exponentially each season.
According to Mike Ozanian of Forbes, the average Major League Baseball team rose 16 percent in value during the past year, to an all-time high of $605 million. In 2011, revenue (net of payments to cover stadium debt) for the league’s 30 teams climbed to an average of $212 million, a 3.4 percent gain over the previous season.
Putting it bluntly, baseball is doing just fine by itself.
As far as television is concerned, the game could not be in better shape.
According to the Examiner.com, on Tuesday, October 2, 2012, the league announced that it had reached agreements with Fox and Turner Sports to air the World Series and other national baseball games through 2021. Combined with the monstrous deal MLB signed with ESPN, all teams will split a grand total of $12.4 billion from 2014 to 2021.
So, what gives?
The game is growing at a rapid rate. Every season seems to be record-breaking in revenue and television contracts.
It’s not as if the game is in desperate need of revenue, attention or outside media markets.
“ESPN’s financial commitment to baseball is extraordinary. … It’s a testament to not only the strength of our game, but the unprecedented popularity with our fans,” Commissioner Bug Selig said, courtesy of the NYDailyNews.com.
Another notable inconvenience with the WBC is timing. In professional sports, especially baseball, timing is everything.
The WBC is played during the ever-so-important weeks of spring training—a period where teams flock to their respective training facilities and get back to the basics before exhibition games begin.
Position players take extensive batting practice and go through numerous drills to shake off the rust and get their timing back. Pitchers are much the same, carefully pacing themselves while stretching out their arms, eventually reverting back to midseason form.
Championships are not won solely on what a team does during the season. They are achieved through the work accomplished during spring training—valuable time that cannot be lost because of this global tournament. And it doesn’t make sense for the WBC to disrupt that critical period.
It’s time for MLB to do away with the WBC and do right by its players, who battle for six months—or more—out of the year.