Defending the World Baseball Classic

I know it’s all too easy to make fun of the entire thing. At times, it can seem to sit in a realm somewhere between an unnecessary meaningless prelude to the genuine article, and a detrimental uprooting of the normal preparation process of the spring.

But I really do love the World Baseball Classic.

Sure, sure, I know the arguments against it. It consists of hastily composed teams full of unprepared players who are fresh off four months of the offseason. A huge chunk of the big stars don’t participate, which sometimes turns it into the equivalent of the 14th inning of the All-Star Game. And the stringent pitch count rules (both written and unwritten, the latter communicated via stern glares and grumbles from a pitcher’s real manager) clearly make the WBC less of an actual competitive tournament and more of a giant exhibition.

There’s nothing wrong with that. None of it matters.

A baseball tournament doesn’t need to have competitive meaning to be meaningful. The WBC isn’t designed to crown the best baseball country in the world. The WBC’s value lies in its ability to foster the growth of international baseball like no other event can.

Two months ago, Jon Paul Morosi wrote an article decrying athletes who turned down an invite to the WBC. Morosi wrote, “…it seems several American stars see the WBC as a matter of convenience rather than an obligation to country and sport,” continuing, “the lame excuse is there in case we need it: Oh, no one cares about the tournament because we don’t send all of our best players.” Morosi doubled down on his argument two months later, leading off a story with “No more excuses. No more rationalizations. If the United States still wants to consider itself the preeminent baseball country on the globe, then Team USA will win the World Baseball Classic.”

Obviously, Morosi is off the mark here. The United States is the home to the strongest baseball leagues in existence, and no three-week quadrennial tournament will change that. But it’s not just that he’s wrong, it’s that his entire premise is built upon a foundation that’s angled in the wrong direction. Morosi’s criticizers, who often point at the WBC’s lack of value as a competitive event as an excuse to dismiss the tournament outright, are hardly more correct.

Both sides are anchored to the idea that the WBC’s competitiveness is tied to its relevance. It’s not. The biggest draw that the World Baseball Classic has to offer is its capacity to expand baseball’s role as an international game. In a press release that was sent out on Tuesday, MLB announced that the game between Japan and Chinese Taipei last Friday was the highest rated television program in Taiwanese cable history. Japan’s game against the Netherlands was the most watched Japanese sports event in 12 months. That rating even beat the TV viewership of the Japan Series, the Japanese equivalent of the World Series.

People are watching overseas. This extends to countries not typically known as baseball powerhouses, such as Italy and the Netherlands. There are professional baseball leagues in Europe (such as the Italian Baseball League and the delightfully named Honkbal Hoofdklasse, to stay with the aforementioned duo), but they could use greater exposure and a larger local audience. With the demise of Olympic baseball after 2008, baseball needs an international event to give small international leagues a spark. This is that event.

The WBC’s main focus isn’t those of us who reside in the United States or Canada. We get 162 games of quality baseball every year, multiplied by 30 teams, in addition to three rounds of quality playoffs. Frankly, we’re spoiled. The WBC is meant for countries around the globe, who don’t always get the chance to see hometown representatives play on the same field as the best of the best. Pointing at the lack of press the WBC gets on its home turf completely misses the point.

The World Baseball Classic is a show on a grand scale for the international audience that baseball has. It’s a fun tournament that brings back the luster in baseball exhibitions, something the All-Star Game has lacked in recent years. And most of all, it performs a vitally important role that the sport wouldn’t otherwise have—spreading the game to the world. The WBC isn’t an international version of the All-Star Game. It’s baseball’s World Cup.

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Comments

  1. Frank Jackson said...

    The lack of interest in the WBC can be gauged by its absence from television screens in sports bars.  Twice last weekend I had to make a special request at a sports bar to have the MLB Network telecasts dialed up.  And these are sports bars where the number of screens is in double digits.

  2. Marc Schneider said...

    “it seems several American stars see the WBC as a matter of convenience rather than an obligation to country and sport,” “

    This is the kind of stuff that drives me nuts about international competition.  (And I realize this was not Dan’s comment.)  As if we don’t have enough problems in the world with nationalism and super-patriotism, we need to make playing in an exhibition baseball tournament a matter of national importance?  I don’t buy it.  Maybe the WBC does help baseball but why does every sport have to be international? Why do I care if the Netherlands plays baseball?  Why do we have to try to export everything American?

  3. David P Stokes said...

    Marc, baseball already exists in those countries—we aren’t exporting it to them (and it’s not like the sometimes struggling leagues overseas have to pay money to MLB in order to play).  The idea is to strengthen those leagues.  No, there’s no great reason that you should care, but then there’s no great reason that you should care about baseball, period.

  4. Keith said...

    I’ve watched every game of the WBC this time around, and I’ve been completely into it. It’s jsut fun seeing all the different fan bases getting into it and waving flags, cheering in their own unique ways.

    The fight songs in Japan, the Dragnet theme blared on brass horns in Miami, the “U-S-A” chant when a runner crosses the plate…

    It might be hokey, it might be meaningless, but it’s incredible amounts of fun.

  5. Fatbot said...

    The WBC is awesome but a testament to the failure of MLB’s business model. MLB basically tries purposefully to prevent fans in the USA from watching baseball. They have the Oakland Raiders bass ackward mentality toward broadcasting—they don’t sell out so black out the games from T.V. then complain that their games don’t sell out.

    Here, baseball has declining popularity. Here, we have the opportunity of a fun event to showcase the sport. So MLB’s solution is pay-per-view; i.e. sticking games on a private brand station that nobody has?

    So instead of a great product like the WBC showcasing the fun of baseball, nobody sees it except the people that already like baseball.

    Which leads to the ultimate in idiocy, MLB’s attitude toward web casting. What a perfect way to get the game into the hands of anybody, especially kids. But instead of streaming the game for free with some ads they *actually charge* a monthly fee? Who the hell is going to pay for that?

    Answer: only baseball fans. Zero new fans.

    Here’s an idea—when your sport is going downhill, make it *easier*, not impossible, for everyone to watch it as many places as you can!

    As it stands, MLB’s pay-per-view, pay to watch model might put some coin in their pocket now thanks to the last hardcore adult fans, but is totally missing out on a generation of kids that can’t find baseball to watch. And if you don’t grow up with baseball, you won’t ever watch it.

    MLB’s business model is that of suicide.

  6. Marc Schneider said...

    David,

    I overstated my objections to the WBC. I agree there is nothing wrong with trying to increase baseball’s popularity abroad, especially in countries where it is currently played.

    My real objection-possibly reading too much into Morosi’s statement-was to the implication that not playing for the US team was somehow unpatriotic.

  7. Jim said...

    Fatbot, Darn, I wish I could state my feelings like you did.  You are so right on.  Yes, I have been watching, but only because I do subscribe to those outlets as you mention.  If I was a casual fan (like I am for football), it’s for darn sure I wouldn’t pay a penny to watch it.  Just like you said.  I would try to find out the results in the paper and say “huh!”

  8. John Maybel said...

    Right on Brother!  Plus, it’s nice for us Minnesota Twins fans to see the battery of Perkins-Mauer pitching to Justin Morneau of Canada.

  9. John Northey said...

    Well, it is unpatriotic to say ‘no’ to representing your country in a tournament where national pride is at stake.  I mean, c’mon, you can either play for your country or you can do wind sprints in the outfield at spring training games.  For any player who is a lock for their job (which all players for the US team would be) it should be a no-brainer.  Guys for other countries play even though they are fighting for a job with their clubs, and if they pull out it makes sense as you need to make a living.  But if you are, say, Bryce Harper then why aren’t you at this competition?  There is 0 risk you will not be playing everyday when the season starts.

    For those who say ‘it doesn’t matter’ remember the basketball dream teams?  For the first few anyone who was invited came.  Period.  You saw the biggest stars even though they fully expected it to be a cakewalk (which it was at first).  In hockey Team Canada at first took it a bit too lightly vs the USSR in 1972 but quickly adapted and won, then took every series seriously after that.  I hoped the baseball Team USA would do the same after 2006 and being knocked out early but obviously hasn’t as they have yet to win a medal (4th the best finish) and almost were sent to the qualifying rounds this year.

  10. Roy said...

    FWIW, I’m a Kansas City Royals season ticket holder (almost 20 years) and you couldn’t pay me to watch one inning of this contrived nonsense. If it were in my power as an owner to not allow my players to participate, I wouldn’t. My interest level is less than zero. The sooner this goes away, the better.

  11. DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy said...

    Since I got tired of ESPN i decided to try NBCSportsN and hey look it’s Ms. Beadle! And it’s a show that looks like a Sportsnation rip-off……….except lamer. Then she is asked if she is going to watch Team USA in an elimination game and she says “Not even if they paid me” and they proceed to talk about pop culture non-sense. I realized, hey! This is just like ESPN, so you know what i’m not watching if they paid me? NBCSN, thank goodness for MLBN. 

    ^ Jeez man has being a Royals fan made you into a self-hating baseball fan?

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