The World Baseball Classic — I’m pretty sure this was the third one — ended last night with the Dominican Republic defeating Puerto Rico 3-0.
Sam Deduno was the star, throwing five shutout innings for the win. I watched the last inning, after tuning in sporadically for an inning or two at a time throughout the tournament, though I never sat through an entire game.
I hated the idea of a ‘World Baseball Classic’ from the beginning, and my opinion hasn’t changed.
If there was one thing that I could have very accurately predicted from the beginning of the first WBC it was that the Latin countries were going to go crazy for this thing and Americans weren’t really going to care, and that’s pretty much what has happened. And I get it. Fans in Puerto Rico or the Dominican have no real reason to root for any major league teams, so when superstars that have left their home country for the USA are suddenly playing for their country — for those fans in the Dominican, or wherever, it suddenly means something to those people. (They make the games totally unwatchable by blowing annoying horns and noisemakers through the duration of the games, too).
But my problem with the WBC is this: What is its purpose? I ask that sincerely. Why does this event exist?
To see which country is the best at baseball? Ha. DR’s win, and Japan’s in the first two WBC’s — proved nothing.
To ‘grow the game’ as Bud Selig has said? This is closer to the truth, so long as you understand that ‘grow the game’ is spin for ‘money grab’.
Mere entertainment? OK, but as long as there are rules in place for pitch counts and such (as there should be) these are still only exhibitions. Better than spring training games, sure, but MLB fans want to watch their team — the Cubs, the Yankees, the Dodgers. Those teams have histories, traditions, cultures even, that have been passed down through generations. All-Star exhibitions do not.
This tournament was filled with journeymen and minor leaguers.
Sam Deduno is on the outside looking in as he tries to win a spot in the Twins rotation this spring, and the Twins have the worst rotation in baseball. And he was the hero of the championship game.
Team USA’s roster included such American heroes as Steve Chisek, Ross Detwiler, Willie Bloomquist and Luke Gregerson. Cue the Star Spangled Banner.
But hey, at least those guys are actually Americans. Team Italy fielded a roster that included Nick Punto, Drew Butera, Dan Serafini, Jason Grilli and Chris Colabello. Those are just the guys I’ve heard of. I’m assuming the rest of the guys on the roster aren’t from Italy, either. I can only assume their presence on the Italian roster means that if Germany wanted to field a team for this tournament I’d be eligible for their roster.
Seriously, how incredibly awkward would it be if Italy actually won the thing? Would Italians across the seas swell with pride that a bunch of hairy Americans from New England that have never set foot in Europe won a baseball tournament in their ‘honor’?
And why are we segregating MLB players anyway? I wouldn’t go so far as to say we’re promoting racism or ethnocentrism here, but I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with pitting nationalities against one another. I don’t care what country a guy is from any more than I care about the color of his skin or his religious beliefs. I don’t see Joe Mauer as an American and Justin Morneau as a Canadian. I see them both as Minnesota Twins, and I’m not going to suddenly start rooting for a guy on the Tigers or White Sox because he’s “representing my country”.
Much like with the Olympics, I hate when patriotism is used as a way to guilt me into supporting something. It always brings to mind the saying, ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’.
Part of the beauty of sports is that it brings people of different cultures together. You can’t turn a double play in the big leagues these days without at least two nationalities being represented, so why is baseball trying to convince us that this tournament is needed to ‘grow the game’? I’m pretty sure people in Latin America are aware of major league baseball and the opportunities it represents.
Let’s be honest. What Bud Selig and his boys really mean by ‘growing the game’ is enticing new customers from outside the U.S. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it’s not like these people from Puerto Rico, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan, etc., are going to start buying tickets to attend games in the U.S. At best they’re going to order jerseys and caps online and maybe buy an MLBTV package to watch games on TV.
Again, fine, but if that’s the only real tangible gain here, the WBC is essentially just a big expensive commercial — for people in countries that already love baseball. I’ll stand corrected if wrong, but somehow I doubt Italy, Holland and Brazil (yes, they had a team in this thing, apparently) have been caught up in WBC fever the last two weeks.
Which would still be all fine and good (if unnecessary), except for the fact that the event still puts players at some risk of injury that could affect their ability to perform for the teams that pay their salaries. If people in Puerto Rico want to criticize Puerto Rican players for not caring enough about the WBC, that’s understandable, because Puerto Ricans don’t care about the Twins or the Mariners or the Padres or the Angels or the Brewers or whoever.
But there’s a reason players from Team USA don’t care all that much about the WBC and aren’t willing to put it ahead of the team that pays them, and that’s because they shouldn’t. Why would they? There is no need for the United States to ‘prove’ that we are the best baseball playing country in the world. It doesn’t matter.
With injury rates as high as they are these days amongst pitchers, any quality major league starter would be absolutely out of his mind to go out and throw even 50-75 pitches at full speed, in a regular-season environment, in March. Guys like Justin Verlander and Jared Weaver have given half-hearted excuses for ducking the WBC, but my guess is that behind closed doors, their owners are telling them, ‘No way in hell am I letting you pitch in that thing with all the money I’m paying you.’
That’s sure as hell what I’d do.
I have a great deal of respect for Peter Gammons, but when he wrote several years ago that the World Series wasn’t a true ‘world’ series because the teams were all from North America, that was an idiotic thing to say.
The title ‘World Series’ isn’t a reference to the best teams in the world, it’s a reference to the best players. The major leagues are where the best players in the world play. Whoever wins the World Series did so by competing against the best in the world and winning — and doing so over a six-month period, not a couple weeks. World Series is a perfectly accurate title. There was never any need to create a silly eight-game tournament to declare the best ‘team’ in the world (which the WBC obviously doesn’t do anyway — and to be clear, the Dominican Republic might well be the best baseball playing nation in the world, I’m just saying this tournament doesn’t prove it).
I’m a proud American and a big baseball fan. But my favorite baseball team isn’t Team USA. Team USA isn’t the favorite baseball team of anyone in America, except for maybe Tom Verducci of SI/MLB Network, who openly lights his own credibility on fire every WBC by essentially claiming it to be better and more important than the MLB regular season (‘This is beyond October!’ he stupidly shouted near the end of one broadcast).
Verducci is one of the most respected baseball writers alive, but he’s out of touch here. His job is to cover the league as a whole. He doesn’t have a favorite team. He gets bored covering mundane spring training workouts and exhibitions. It’s easy to see why something like the WBC would appeal to him.
But baseball fans don’t care if spring training is boring for writers. And they don’t care if a team of major league journeymen wearing shirts that say ‘Italy’ on them can beat a team of big black dudes from Curacao wearing shirts that say ‘The Netherlands’.
Luckily it hasn’t happened, but just imagine if Derek Jeter or Robinson Cano suffered a season-ending injury playing in the WBC. Do you really think Yankee fans would go, ‘Oh, well, it sucks that we’re going to have a harder time winning the pennant this year, but hey, the dude was representing his country so it was worth it.’?
You know the answer to that and so do the players. In fact, the minute a legit superstar from a major market goes down in the WBC, the WBC probably dies (and don’t tell me there’s no injury risk — there was a huge brawl early in the tournament, and pitchers suffer season-ending elbow injuries brushing their teeth). The American players are keeping their loyalties to their MLB teams, and if that means Team USA never wins a WBC, I’m glad.
This stupid tournament was an exercise in flag-waving from fans in places where baseball is already popular. I’m genuinely happy for the people of the Dominican Republic being able to celebrate tonight, but for fans of Major League Baseball, what happened in this tournament will be forgotten by the weekend. We’re just happy it’s over and the games that matter are almost here.