Evaluating the Importance of World Baseball Classic

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2013

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 23:  Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers rounds third base after hitting a solo home run against the Oakland Athletics in the first inning during the spring training game at Maryvale Baseball Park on February 23, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

In all honesty, the World Baseball Classic has very little relevance in the United States. After all, we have Major League Baseball, the premier league in the sport. 

But that doesn't mean the tournament is irrelevant. Far from it, in fact. Around the world, this young tournament is an important global event. 

Consider Japan, a team that has won the first two tournaments and won't have a single MLB player on its roster this year. It's a point of national pride to win at the WBC.

What about a team like Cuba, which won't have any of its Major League players on the roster since guys like Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes had to defect to play in the MLB. Imagine the pride for Cuba if the team can win this tournament without its best players.

And we know how important baseball is in Asia and the Caribbean, so countries such as China, Chinese Tapei, South Korea, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic all take this tournament very seriously.

But what about those countries you might not expect to be in a tournament such as this?

In countries such as the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Brazil and Australia—where other sports like soccer, basketball or rugby reign supreme—the chance to spread the game of baseball to a new audience is a huge opportunity.

If baseball can establish firmer footholds in Europe and South America through the WBC, the tournament will be a huge success.

In general, the WBC is another chance for baseball to to establish a stronger hold in countries where it might not be the primary sport. In Canada, it's the chance to establish a bigger market where hockey is god. In Mexico, it's a chance to gain some ground on soccer.

That impact cannot be overstated. 

Baseball was voted out of the 2012 Olympics and won't be present in the 2016 Games either, so the WBC becomes all the more important as the global ambassador to the sport.

Baseball and softball will bid to be reinstated in the 2020 Games along with six other sports, but with all of the outrage after wrestling was dropped from those same games, it's unlikely we'll see baseball return anytime soon. 

In the United States, we may never understand the full relevance of the WBC. Sure, players like Ryan Braun, Giancarlo Stanton, Mark Teixeira, Jimmy Rollins, David Wright, Joe Mauer, R.A. Dickey and Gio Gonzalez are playing, but consider all of the stars who won't participate.

MLB fans are simply hoping their favorite players don't get hurt before the regular season. This may be an international tournament, but it's essentially an advanced spring training for Team USA. 

But for the game we love to grow and expand globally, events like the WBC must thrive. 


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