The WBC's MVP May Be Its Worst Enemy
I don't question your love of the game, I really don't. I know you're a baseball purist and I know you love the game for the right reasons. I'm sure you didn't even want instant replay to be introduced, and I know it was partly just bad luck you happened to be Commissioner during the plague that is the Steroid Era. But Bud, the Word Baseball Classic just ain't worth it.
Enter Daisuke Matsuzaka. The $103 million arm from Japan, fresh off an encouraging (albeit at times incredibly frustrating) 18-3 season, the man they call Dice-K has struggled mightily in the first third—almost half (wow, time flies) of the 2009 season.
When Matsuzaka landed on the DL earlier in the season, the WBC was quietly blamed. It made sense. His fastball didn't have any zip, his command was non-existent, and every start of his just seemed to drag. Matsuzaka seemed to put the same amount of effort into one pitch that most pitchers expended over the course of an entire inning. He just looked tired.
Since it was early in the season, the WBC and the list of players that had left early due to nagging bumps and bruises was fresh in people's minds. So when Dice-K, the hero of Japan's tournament win went down, many shook their fingers in the direction of the WBC. Sports writers had field days and on-air analysts all shared the view point that Matsuzaka's rushed spring played a large part in his early season struggles.
The blame game was not confined to sports journalists alone. Most notably within the Red Sox organization, GM Theo Epstein could not completely bite his tongue and questioned the WBC's effects on valuable commodities in, not just his, but all Major League Baseball franchises. Manager Terry Francona also expressed some discontent but seemed apprehensive in going too far in speaking out against the event that Major League Baseball had considered a full-on success in promoting the international community of the sport.
But this time, there are no holds barred. Matsuzaka, looking even more tired than he did earlier in the season, a shell of the pitcher he was in 2008, essentially has to now start from scratch. It's more than just an inconvenience to one of the top teams in all of Baseball.
Francona had no qualms in coming out and explaining that Matsuzaka's seasonal development was indeed rushed this past March. "He's out there pitching all these innings and trying to figure out ways to get outs before he needs to," Francona said.
Exactly. Dice-K didn't need those outs in the WBC. Sure, he was pitching for the country in which he as an unquestionable loyalty to, but Matsuzaka is an employee of the Boston Red Sox.
They are paying his salary. They invested heavily in his right arm—not Japan. The organization has every right to be more than little ticked off about their projected No. 2 starter's involvement in a tournament that is all too flawed and dangerous to take place the month before the long summer grind that is the MLB season.
Dice-K is a shining example of all that is wrong with the WBC. Ironically, during the tournament itself, he was Baseball's best illustration of everything the WBC stood for; international community, pride, talent, and patriotism.
Dice-K put it all on the line for the WBC, and he and the Boston Red Sox got burned.
It won't be the last time, either. If Commissioner Selig continues to settle on the fact that there is no "perfect time" for the tournament and that the good does in fact outweigh the bad, then the bad will soon even itself out in the form of injured players who sacrifice their seasons for a tournament ripe with flaws.
UPDATE 4:29 pm: Pitching Coach John Farrell (if any one knows pitching, it's this guy) is the latest to hop on the WBC blame bandwagon.
On WEEI's "Dale and Holley Show" today, Farrell said, "I think it's clear, now that there have been two of these tournaments, that the season performances of the pitchers who participate in that tournament take a step backward."
Farrell went on to say that while the WBC is a "well-intended tournament... yes, there are some drawbacks to it."
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