For the first time since January, Major League Baseball fans are in the midst of a full month without baseball.
That's right, folks. Since the World Series concluded, the 2013 baseball year has been more about the hot stove and potential moves than actual baseball. As the memories of a great 2013 start flooding back in, we remember how it began: With an incredibly competitive and entertaining World Baseball Classic in March.
If you are a fan of the hot stove and day-to-day rumors surrounding each embattled general manager, free agent and star on the trade block, the offseason is a very exciting time. In New York, the mere idea of Jay Z breaking bread with members of the Mets front office is enough to send shock waves and snickers throughout the five boroughs.
Of course, not everyone has the time or energy to keep up with news and notes. Some fans just want competitive baseball on television. Sure, MLB Network shows some Arizona Fall League games, but that's not what we're talking about here. For the fan that misses the intensity of October baseball and relaxing doldrums of play-by-play announcers, this idea is for you: The World Baseball Classic should be moved to November.
Yes, the tournament that brings baseball fans around the world together should be revamped before the next rendition of the event in 2017, starting with the drastic measure of moving the entire event from the preseason to after the conclusion of the World Series.
Why? Here are three reasons it would enhance the product and extend the viewing pleasure for fans starving for baseball in November.
1. The ratings might rebound.
According to Sports Media Watch, the 2013 WBC championship game between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic earned 843,000 viewers on MLB Network last March. To put that number in perspective, consider this: In 2009, the WBC final drew over 1.6 million viewers to ESPN. Despite an entertaining tournament and representative final, half of fans that tuned in in 2009 did not for the 2013 finale.
To put those numbers in perspective, take a look at some television numbers from Nielsen. For the week of Nov. 4, 2013, a Hallmark Original Movie—something called A Very Merry Mix Up—garnered over five times as many eye balls as the WBC final from March. Comparing and contrasting cable ratings, made-for-television movies and exhibition baseball isn't the point here, but the numbers are startling when put in that context.
Simply put, Major League Baseball can't use the soft scheduling landscape of March to enhance their reasoning for playing the WBC in that month any longer. Sure, the NFL and college football, along with regular season NHL and NBA, would dwarf WBC ratings in November, but it's not exactly thriving in March.
Playing the WBC in November would extend the season. Plus, with the carryover excitement from October and the postseason, fans may stay tuned in to baseball in November, rather than having the sport thrust upon everyone in March.
2. Star players may be more apt to play.
One of the biggest complaints about the WBC centers around baseball's best players choosing not to participate for fear of injury, unwillingness to miss critical spring training time with their parent club or concern from the player's organization about letting a recently healed player back into competitive baseball without a full spring to get into shape. Playing in November, or any month for that matter, won't ever totally alleviate concerns for professional athletes, but it could make some more apt to play.
Yes, the players that just wrapped up the World Series will be tired and ragged. In 2013, that would have potentially meant stars like Carlos Beltran, David Ortiz and Adam Wainwright choosing not to play and represent their respective countries. Yet, for every other player, November could just represent an extension of the season.
If an injury were to occur in a November-based WBC, it could leave enough time to heal before spring training or the regular season. Minor injuries would be a blip on the radar screen for parent clubs, unlike a scenario with Mark Teixeira last March. When the Yankees first baseman went down with a torn sheath in his wrist, the Yankees essentially lost one of their key players for the entire season, throwing water on the WBC.
When it comes to pitchers, workload and velocity in mid-March is a concern for pitching coaches around the sport. Furthermore, meaningful innings in WBC games are different than exhibition games in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues. Although young pitchers, like Zack Wheeler of the New York Mets, might have to skip a WBC due to reaching a team-imposed innings limit during the regular season, veteran pitchers wouldn't have to worry about their arms for the following season.
It's disheartening for pitching coaches to watch their pitchers have setbacks after the WBC in March, but affording them the opportunity to rest for months after the competition would help the Major League Baseball regular season product.
Not convinced yet? The NBA routinely sends over the best American-born players for the Olympics. Much like in this proposed change, the competition takes place in the aftermath of the NBA postseason and Finals. If athletes like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant can drag themselves off the mat after grueling and arduous postseason runs, play at a high level for Team USA and still be ready for NBA opening tip in October, Major League Baseball players could easily adapt to this change.
3. It affords fans more baseball!
Full disclosure: It's hard for me to get into the WBC in March. Despite watching and covering baseball for a living, the process of getting locked into every pitch is hard to do in March. Spring training has really just begun, opening day isn't until April, and, for those outside of warm climates, it's winter.
On the other hand, I'm always disappointed to watch the World Series end, knowing that we are months away from meaningful baseball again. Bridging the gap during the offseason, even if it means pushing back the GM's meetings and hot stove, would make the offseason much, much more enjoyable.
If you are still on the edge with this proposal, think of it this way: If the WBC was on right now, we would be watching the best players in the world on the diamond.
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