Thursday, March 02, 2006

World Baseball "Classic"

So, the World Baseball Classic is officially underway, with Korea leading Taiwan (screw you, China) 2-0 in the 6th inning. Like most people, I have very mixed feelings about the execution of the event this time around, but believe me when I say that the concept is fantastic. There’s nothing better than international competition in my book (see my blathering about hockey and soccer for proof), and of course, any kind of baseball is good baseball. I hope that this year’s tourney is the first step toward what will become an important sporting event.

This year? Doesn’t seem very important. Star players dropped out of the tourney left and right, to the point where it now looks like that Venezuela are the favorites based on their dominant pitching staff. Without Pedro, the DR doesn’t have much hope, and my feeling is that even with the inhuman leadership capabilities (*gag*) of Derek Jeter, Team USA won’t care enough to win. That, and Al Leiter is now their 4th starter. Venezuela has the passion, and the pitching, to win it.

But that’s beside the point for me. I am very interested in the result to be sure, but there’s no denying that this is a very diluted product. The WBC will never be the World Cup in terms of popularity, but it could become like the World Cup in terms of impact within the sport. Soccer players usually place playing in the World Cup over everything else, and professional leagues change their season schedules in order to accommodate it. If the World Cup rates a 10 out of 10 in importance for soccer players, it scores a 1 of 10 for baseball players, and that’s why it’s hard to think of this as anything more than an interesting diversion.

What will make it an event? The most important factor for me is that the tourney cannot be before the season–it must be after the World Series. This follows the model for the World Cup, and is advantageous in that it is close enough to the season for many players still to be in good playing condition, but it is far enough away from the end of the regular season for nagging injuries to heal. It will also allow them to drop the ridiculous pitch limit. This will make it far less likely that major stars will beg off, as they have done this season. The other factor is that the games this time around, at least in the semis and finals, must be very dramatic and exciting. There is no way to guarantee that, but it would do so much good for future prospects. Basically, Frankie Rodriguez has to be staring down Albert Pujols in the bottom of the 9th in the finals. Or does it have to be the USA? I hope that US baseball fans have enough interest that they would turn out to see a final between the DR and Venezuela. Lord knows I would, but you can’t be too sure. If the players who are sitting it out see a playoff-type atmosphere from the fans, and a close game makes for playoff-type drama, I can see a much more appealing event in 2010. I’m crossing my fingers...

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