Baseball’s championship is called the World Series, even though it traditionally, (excluding the 1992 and 1993 seasons), takes place between two American teams. Commissioner Bud Selig wants that changed before he retires in 2012 and is working toward a postseason series between the champion in America and the champion in Japan. Our national pastime is taking another step towards globalization, and baseball needs it to continue to stay relevant.
The globalization of baseball started with the World Baseball Classic, baseball’s World Cup. America’s sport took its greatest step towards becoming a game of the world, instead of a symbol of one country. While baseball had already taken off in Latin American countries and far eastern countries, this was the first time that all of these countries had gotten together and showcased their unique talent and style.
The world watched the plucky Netherlands team defeat the mighty Dominican Republic twice. The Classic has had games played in Puerto Rico, Japan, Mexico, Canada and the U.S.A.
Unfortunately, these games take place before spring training and the exhibitions have drawn controversy from American fans, because of their perceived lack of importance before the season and their potential to injure Major League Baseball’s stars.
Both of these problems are rectified with Selig’s “real” World Series. It would take place after America’s championship series, (which would still probably be called the World Series), but would still give players on participating teams enough time in the off-season to recover from any injuries. It would also carry weight as the game would be a real world championship between two international professional clubs.
Some would debate the merit of a championship between two teams that have never played each other, but they should be reminded that until 1997, MLB teams did not face each other if they played in different leagues. The only other issue would be free agency, which would have to be pushed back until after the international series, so that key players from the MLB team would not be free agents and therefore not be able to play.
Between the World Baseball Classic and this new “World Series”, baseball is closer than ever to joining team sports like soccer, cricket and rugby amongst the international elite. Americans have traditionally been egocentric when it comes to sports identifying and have identified on an international level the most with hockey, but the rest of the world is embracing baseball and meeting us more than half way.
Basketball is catching on around the world at a quick pace as well. In China, courts are teeming with young men who idolize the stars of the NBA. According to USA Today, during the Bejing Olympics, the loudest cheers for an individual Olympian went to countryman Yao Ming, but the cheers for Kobe Bryant were nearly as loud.
WNBA players regularly play in Russia during the off-season and make more money per game there. The Greek team Olympiacos Piraeus signed rising star Josh Childress to a three year deal, by out-bidding the Atlanta Hawks. The NBA is full of international stars, including players from every continent on the globe except Antarctica.
In both cases, the world has embraced our sport. Baseball is lucky, as it is losing popularity at home amidst the competition of football, NASCAR, extreme sports and the rest of the American sports buffet line. International competition is the future of the sport and we as fans will be the ones who benefit the most. It adds competition, raises awareness and fuels the fire in fans that has made soccer such a force in the world.