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Mar 12, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Phillips 2B starts the game ending double play against Puerto Rico at Marlins Park. United States defeated Puerto Rico 7-1. (Photo: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports)

Will the US Ever Embrace the WBC?

As I was watching the WBC final, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wondering if the US will ever truly embrace the idea of the World Baseball Classic. Throughout the event, there were a myriad of posts and articles either directly or indirectly pondering this thought.

Mar 19, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Dominican Republic celebrate after defeating Puerto Rico to win the World Baseball Classic championship at AT&T Park (Kelley L Cox – USA TODAY Sports)

Personally, I’m not sure if it will ever happen. I’m not talking merely from a fan point of view – I actually enjoy it – but also the MLB teams. There has been a reluctance from player participation and MLB club approval at least with some hesitance. The main concern, says the consensus, is that of injury.

As Rob Neyer noted the other day, there is no one “answer” that is palpable to everyone. Within this, Neyer notes that while ESPN’s Jayson Stark did a recent study in regards to injuries and the WBC, Neyer also references a 2010 post from Fangraphs authored by Michael Echan which notes some contrast to Stark’s more current “study”.

What is not hard to believe is that both of these posts (Stark’s and Echan’s) provide us with fair points. The only point of contention I have with Stark’s article – and I find usually myself having the same view on things as Stark – is that the one “fact” he delivers only pertains to players that land on the DL during only the month of April after participating in the WBC. Nothing after that month. With pitchers, it could happen after Arpil.

Echan’s piece delves into not only injuries, but a WBC participant’s performance on the MLB level as well. That sparks my personal interest a little more. As a Reds fan, may I now logically ask how Brandon Phillips fare this season? He is undoubtedly an integral part of the team from both an offensive and defensive take.

I would suggest reading all three of the posts I linked as all are good reads on the topic.

You will rarely hear a player take a negative stance on even the possibility of representing his country. David Wright cites no regrets in playing even though there’s a chance he begins the 2013 season on the DL due to an injury he sustained in a WBC game.

Not sure how Sandy Alderson and the Wilpons feel on that matter considering Wright inked an eight year, $138MM deal back in December.

Same most likely might be said for Mark Teixeira, Brett Lawrie and Hanley Ramirez and the respective teams for which they play. They were honored to be considered to have at least a chance to play in the WBC. Those that pay their salaries may have a different eye on the matter.

The injury fear is real regardless of the percentages. So is the potential for regression. I get that players could get hurt at any time during spring training. But there is a difference between playing exhibition games with your team versus playing games that are supposed to be taken in a similar fashion to those of the regular season. The regression factor is one that you don’t hear a whole lot.

It will be a study to see how Deduno fares this season for the Minnesota Twins. In the WBC, he was 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. He struck out 17 (2nd most in the WBC) and walked 5 (only Edinson Volquez walked more with 6) in 13 innings of work. Or how will Fernando Rodney perform in 2013? He was as dominant as any closer in the majors last season and backed that up with his almost flawless performance in the WBC (8 G, 7.1 IP, 7 SV, 0.00 ERA, 0.55 WHIP). Rodney allowed all of one hit. He allowed more walks (3).

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With baseball no longer an offering on the Olympic menu, the WBC is the closest professional-level competition the world has as it relates to the sport of baseball. Spare me the chatter about the Olympics being for amateurs. Those days, at least in some events, are long gone, never to return.

Even when the Olympics did have baseball as an event, the US team was comprised of mostly college players. Not that there’a anything wrong with that. What might be a bit of a shock: baseball was only a medal sport five times (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008). The US took two golds (’96, ’08) as did Japan (’92, ’04). South Korea was the recipient of the other (’00).

There’s something different about receiving an Olympic gold medal…

But isn’t baseball the great American pastime? Isn’t baseball supposed to be “our” sport? With three WBCs in the books, the US has zero titles. Zero. Japan won the first two and now the Dominican Republic owns one.

Now, you may ask yourself if you care or if this fact even slightly bothers you.

The opinion I have heard from most is that they prefer their favorite team to win the World Series far more than have a player from their team be on a WBC champ. Some view the WBC is nothing more than “glorified exhibition games”. That is to be logically expected.

Those that participate in the WBC will strongly argue that last point…glorified exhibition games.

Mar 14, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; The Dominican Republic celebrates their 3-1 win over the United States during the World Baseball Classic at Marlins Park. (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

But when you watch a WBC game, it is a vastly different experience. I’m not only referring to how the fans become so involved in a game (a point I made some days ago), but the players as well.

There was reported talk that a few US players were upset at the display the Dominican Republic team made during and after the game where they defeated the US. We saw the same during the final. After Samuel Deduno struck out Angel Pagan in the 5th, Deduno began an emphatic celebration. Pagan threw words in Deduno’s direction and looked exceptionally peeved with Deduno’s celebration.

It’s all about national pride, something that hasn’t exactly been echoed around the States. That’s what it’s about. We as Americans display it so much during practically any other worldly competition, the Olympics in particular. Just not the WBC.

Is that so wrong?

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Of course, finding an appropriate time of year could be a potential cure-all. (Yes, I was snickering a bit as I typed that.) Having the WBC during spring takes players away from their teams, those teams which pay a salary in order for their players to prepare for the upcoming season.

All-Star break, perhaps? Big League Stew indicates that might be the best time. There’s a twist here that could find a little traction.

In WBC years, you forego the All-Star Game in favor of the WBC. Not sure if the owners would go for that. These days, hosting the ASG is considered an honor. But I must ask: Would a city consider hosting the WBC instead of the ASG? If you go with another of Kevin Kaduk’s points in which one city hosts all the games to be played, it would present an intriguing situation and another question. Could a city receive at least the same economic impact from hosting those games as it would hosting an ASG? If the answer is “yes” or “potentially even more”, then I will guess owners will have to at least consider that option.

Now you want to get into market size? There are four markets with two MLB teams: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Oakland-San Francisco. But look at the remaining cities which have minor league or spring training stadiums nearby. Use those as well. Wasn’t one game this year played at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick? Capacity: 11,000.

The time frame might be an issue. Using a period of a week to 10 days in order to hold the WBC may prove to be not enough time. Using multiple facilities would be a necessity. For the first round of pool play this year, there were four locations with a total of five facilities used.

A pool could take as little as three days to complete assuming there are two games played each day. Got that issue solved, don’t I? Not so fast. As you can see, this could be a logistical nightmare. Remember how the commish said there was this exact issue about how the playoffs were conducted last year? On the other hand, having a period of three years to plan might eliminate many of those concerns.

And what if you aren’t playing in the WBC? That time off could also see bad habits reappear in a player’s game. And what will those that are not in the WBC do during that time. Re-train? Almost have to host some type of team workouts with all that downtime. More logistic concerns for that team which is playing host.

And there is, and always may be, the issue of finding willing participants. Even if a decent time of the year were supposedly discovered, would that enhance the chances of the US sporting a three-man starting staff of say, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg? Take any of those three out and insert David Price. Or Cole Hamels? Maybe Matt Cain? Mat Latos? What about Prince Fielder playing first base? Having an outfield which features Mike Trout? Seeing perhaps Bruce Bochy as the manager of Team USA?

I know this and Reds fans may not like what I’m about to say, but if he was healthy, could you imagine a greater competitor for this atmosphere than Chris Carpenter?

I know the WBC is still a work in progress. The primary goal was, and still is, to raise the awareness of baseball on a global scale. I get that and not many could dispute that the WBC has not accomplished this. During the final telecast, the reference was made as to what it would mean for baseball if it could become more ingrained into the Chinese culture of sports. That would be a huge boost to baseball.

Know something, baseball could use a boost in the US as well.

I don’t see the WBC being an event which will ever be grasped stateside. At least not in the foreseeable future.

Call me a cynic if you must.

Tags: World Baseball Classic

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