The Olympics are coming this summer, and it is currently the world's greatest international celebration. I like to consider myself a globalist and nothing stirs me up into a frenzy quite like international competition. Every year I get to lose my respective mind for one of the following: Summer and Winter Olympics, World Cup, Rugby World Cup, Ice Hockey World Championships, FIBA World Championships, World Baseball Classic, and will jump on board the Cricket World Cup and the IFAF World Cup the next time they come around. (The IAFA World Cup is a World Cup for American Football. I kid you not. They have been playing it in Japan every 4 years since 1999. Americans didn't even participate until 2007. Ridiculous. Why did this get absolutely no press? ESPN be damned!)
These are all great tournaments, and I am a huge proponent of countries competing with national pride on the line, but I am looking for something a little closer to home. We could create a tournament like those international contests, but add more teams to compete. It would be the love-child of an Olympic tournament and the NCAA Basketball tournament except participants would not have to be amateur. Soccer has two such tournaments, the UEFA Cup and the FIBA World Cup. The former is for European teams only, but the latter is open to every club in the world. (This is a technicality. The top club from each continent and the host country plays in the tournament, but any team from any country can theoretically make it to the top of their continent).
I propose that such a tournament be created for baseball.
What? Matt. Stop, listen, and learn, ok. Baseball already has a tournament that showcases all the best teams in the world. It's called the MLB playoffs. We spiced it up when we added the wild card. Ya dig? It's fine the way it is. Baseball is part of American tradition, and tradition means that we don't deviate from the way things are done. I won't have you messin' with my clubs, and potentially injuring my players for some tournament against inferior teams, when the only thing that matters is the World Series!!
Now I understand that changing anything about baseball would be the rough equivalent to some of setting fire to a Ford Mustang full of American flags and copies of the Declaration of Independence, but hear me out. Baseball integrated and all the stadiums weren't destroyed simultaneously by earthquakes. Curt Flood brought about free agency and he wasn't immediately struck by lightning thereafter. Baseball went to an 8 team playoff system and lava didn't rain down over the cities represented in that playoffs, or any playoff since. So do not cry foul over changing baseball, it is merely another evolution, and it just might bring about global support and interest.
The World Baseball Classic was the world's first professional "World Series", if you don't count the 1992 and 1993 World Series that Toronto won. The fact that America didn't win the WBC was the best part. Stop shaking your head. If America won, nobody would have cared. It would have just been some tournament that we used to showcase ourselves at a game we invented. Big deal. Instead, we got to see Team Japan, (full of great players who could make it in the MLB, that we may never have been able to see play otherwise), vs. Team Cuba, (full of great players who could make it in the MLB, that we may never have seen play otherwise). The whole tournament was surreal and incredible, and it brought out the best for fans who had never seen the Japanese sacrificial team play, or the legendary talent of the Cubans. There we have our Baseball World Cup, but why not expand on that idea?
Baseball is played professionally outside of America and Japan. There are professional leagues in the Netherlands, Italy, Puerto Rico, Israel, Korea, Venezuela, China, and Taiwan. Australia had a league from 1989-1999, and is supposed to be forming a new one at the end of this year. Cuba has a brilliant league but must play as amateurs. Both the Dominican Republic and Mexico have winter leagues. They often feature some major leaguers, (something that would have to be worked out in the case of a club tournament.) Also, there is a high level of interest in both the United Kingdom, (which has about 40 teams in an amateur league, complete with higher and lower divisions, a la their soccer counterparts) and World Baseball Classic countries like South Africa and Panama. America also has more pro leagues than Major League Baseball. Independent baseball thrives in America, and there are currently nine leagues showcasing baseball talent that regularly competes at the level of AAA teams, as well as current Florida-based MLB teams.
There are at least 166 independent, professional baseball clubs in the world outside of MLB. We could take the best of each league, (playoff clubs from the world wide professional leagues, as well as Cuba's amateur league, plus the champions of the smaller amateur leagues and American Independent Leagues), and create a 64 team "World Series Tournament"!!!
The tournament would be held in January in the most fun and weather-friendly places around America: Miami, San Diego, Las Vegas, (someone hire a contractor to make Sam Boyd Stadium baseball compatible), and New Orleans.
Matt, foreign clubs, let alone amateur teams cannot compete with an MLB squad.
Wrong. Well, kind of wrong. In baseball, any team has a chance to win one game against any other team if their pitcher gets hot or the better team has an off-day. That's why baseball playoffs are played in a series. It gives the better team more of a chance not to be upset in one game. In this tournament, we eliminate the series effect until the end. From round 1 until the Elite 8, the tournament will be set up as a one game playoff. The last four teams will play a three game series to get to the finals, and a three game series to determine the champion. This will give every team a better chance, and generate more interest from foreign audiences who don't want to watch their team get slaughtered in a series.
On top of that, the winning team will play ten games at the most, minimizing the chances of an injury that will affect them when the MLB season starts. Almost any team can catch lightning in a bottle for 10 games. Imagine a Dutch team upsetting the Cubs, (Cubs fans can already see it), an Independent team knocking out the Hanshin Tigers, or an amateur squad from any country becoming the 2006 George Mason of the tournament, and having the world outside the Bronx get behind them when they have to face the New York Yankees. The Nielsen Ratings system would crack, and international attention would be brought to this awesome party of a tournament. The winner would be the real "World Series Champion", and every baseball club owner would go into an epileptic shock just dreaming about the publicity and revenue he could get from that title. That would be enough to convince him to let his players go out there for ten games before spring training.
When it is all over, the casual fan like you or I will be left in a better state than when we started. There will be debates ranging between how the tournament should be changed, (especially if the team we support is upset early), which players from other leagues would we want on our MLB team, (Dice-K from the first WBC is the best example), and how the game is played with different styles in different areas. We as fans would get a better appreciation for baseball by seeing it played in different styles, and baseball itself would globalize further as other countries decide they want in on this party-tournament action. Really, if baseball can't make the world a better place, perhaps nothing can.