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Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Why I’m not into the WBCI've taken many jabs at the WBC lately. Well, maybe not jabs, because I don't actually hate it or anything. But I certainly have made a point of saying how little I care about it. A reader asked me what gives in the comments to the People in My Neighborhood post this afternoon:
Craig, I know you’ve talked about this somewhat before, but please enlighten me as to just why you’re so vehemently unconcerned about the WBC. I mean, I’m not going to follow every pitch or buy myself a South Africa jersey, but more baseball is a good thing, right? The chance to see players from other countries (Japan and Cuba, especially) is pretty cool. When else will you get to see Yu Darvish pitch?
Fair question. The answer is that I don't have an acceptable answer. Or at least, I don't have a rational, evidence-based answer. Rather, my apathy towards the WBC is merely a function of many of my long-held prejudices and predispositions forming a perfect storm of “meh.”
For starters, for as much as I love, love, love baseball, I have long been incapable of caring about spring training games. The news from camp, yes, but actually sitting and watching a game is just nothing I have ever taken a shine to. Maybe that would be different if someone invited me out to Arizona or something, but that doesn't happen in my universe. I’ve thought hard about why I don't care for spring training games, and I've decided that it’s simply an internal calendar thing. April is when baseball starts in my mind, and there’s not a lot I can do about it. These last few years with March opening days have truly put that predisposition to the test, and I’m not ashamed to admit that even though the games counted, it didn’t really feel like baseball season before April rolled around.
So the timing of it all is one thing. Another thing is far more fogeyish on my part, and it's that the look, feel and sound of baseball games really matter to me. Baseball is comfort food for me, and for as embarrassing as it is to admit, I don’t take to it as well when I have to adjust to different uniforms, different levels and qualities of crowd noise, and all of that stuff. There are organized cheers in these things, and they jar me out of my baseball happy place for some reason. This is not insurmountable, obviously. The aesthetics of Major League Baseball are far different today than they were when I started watching in the 70s and 80s, and that hasn't prevented me from adjusting. It's just that, in connection with the previous item, it’s hard for me to want to adjust at this time of year for this type of ephemeral competition.
The final reason -- and this one I’m somewhat less ashamed of, though I’m not sure if I should be -- is that I find that pitting nation-state against nation-state in any competition is a passe exercise. I’m not in favor of one world government or anything, but I do have a mild Utopian streak in me, and I thus find the competition of countries to be a rather quaint and ultimately meaningless construct that I hope is one day supplanted by a little more oneness, ya know? Oh, I'll grant the World Cup and the modern Olympics their current constructs because nations were more important when they started and I’ll grant them their setup for the sake of history, but we really aren’t in that world anymore. Or at least we should strive not to be. All of us have more things in common with some people in other countries than we do with some people in our own. With specific reference to sports, we all know that no country has a monopoly on top talent. Why then pit countries against one another? What, exactly, does it prove? The height of internationalism, in my mind at least, is when people from all over the world play together rather than divide up into categories determined by accident of birth. For the time being, that means all of the best baseball players playing in the Major Leagues. Or all of the best soccer players playing in the EPL or in Germany or Italy or whatever league is supposed to the best. At some point—like, when we master teleportation — I'll want to see truly global leagues.
Take all of those things together, and I am simply left without an emotional toehold in the World Baseball Classic. The competition will be better in April, as will the aesthetics and the weather. Any young talent who reveals himself in the WBC will eventually find his way into the majors eventually, and I'll see him (and his WBC video) then. The stakes seem phony to me. The payoff -- real baseball -- relatively minor in light of the approaching season.
I don’t suppose any of those things gives me license not to care, but they are the reason I don’t. Feel free to tell me why I'm wrong in the comments below.
Posted by Craig Calcaterra at 5:10pm
Ah, the perfect illustration of precisely why I love me a little Shyster: you never, ever say, “Just ‘cuz.”
Posted 03/04 at 06:26 PM
Andy L said...
I agree with you about spring training. I’ve been to a few Grapefruit League games, and they’re a lot of fun, but it is almost impossible for me to sit through a whole spring training game on TV. I’ll tune in for a bit to see Tim Lincecum, David Price, Matt Wieters etc. in the spring, but I don’t stick around to watch for the final score.
Posted 03/04 at 06:30 PM
“With specific reference to sports, we all know that no country has a monopoly on top talent.”
See, this is exactly WHY I like the WBC. There was a time when we, as US Americans, thought we had a monopoly on top talent. Which is why our MLB and NBA champion are the “World” Champions. Obviously, given the limitation inherent in it, the WBC will not give a true “World” champion, however, its a much better approximation than Philly v. Tampa.
In addition, country v. country sport is one of the better ways of showing “All of us have more things in common with some people in other countries than we do with some people in our own.” For example, there are many people in this country who somehow hate Baseball. I like seeing the rabid Japanese and Dominican fans cheering their teams on like I do the Astros. It illustrates the connection.
As far global oneness, I think something will be lost when I can’t cheer for USA against Japan, not in a spirit of hate or xenophobia, but good in competition.
Posted 03/04 at 07:18 PM
Craig, I am not here to tell you that you are wrong. in fact, everything you say here is true, we just feel differently about it.
I like the WBC because there is such parody between the countries. We can all predict who will come out of the first round, but after that, its really anyone’s ball game.
I have never been able to get into spring training games, and I can’t blame you for feeling that baseball doesn’t start until April. The truth to that, for me at least, is that games are not competitive in March. Spring training games are like exhibition games in any other sport, they are warm ups, the starters play for the first half and sit down. The WBC, on the other hand, is competitive baseball in March. That is why I watch it.
No, I won’t be following every pitch, but I will watch as much as I can. I won’t be cheering all out for team USA, or Canada, or anyone. I will be cheering for entertaining baseball.
Posted 03/04 at 07:37 PM
Grammar Police said...
1. Ephemeral not effermeral.
2. Parity not parody.
Posted 03/04 at 08:13 PM
To your last point, I don’t think the WBC really excites the same jingoistic nationalism that the Olympics is rife with. The World Cup is probably less nationalist than you might think, too. Half the teams in the Finals don’t even make it to the knock-out rounds, so most fans end up picking a second team to root for anyway.
I’m more inclined to root against the US in the WBC because the fans (and players) of the other teams are so much less indifferent. Those games between the Caribbean countries were fantastic. Flip over to the US vs. Korea and you get the echos of a nearly-empty stadium.
Posted 03/04 at 08:23 PM
Chris H. said...
I’m with Craig on this one, but for me it boils down to one thing:
The games don’t count.
I can’t get excited about Spring Training games, or exhibition games, or the All-Star Game. They don’t count.
As a baseball fan, my eye has always been towards the standings. I love the games themselves, but I gotta say, on opening day I’m already thinking about the possibility of playoffs.
Which, as a life-long Cub fan, certainly added to my childhood anguish.
Oh, and if my team’s star pitcher (or whatever) were to get hurt in the WBC, I’d be furious.
Posted 03/04 at 08:41 PM
I guess I don’t see how US v. Japan is really any different than Boston v. New York or Chicago v. St. Louis. It’s just a means of dividing talent and providing a means for paying cutomers to develop a rooting interest - giving us a reason to care. The fans in Boston hate New York (and New Yorkers) much more vehemently than the fans cheering for Italy at any WBC game hate the Netherlands (and the Dutch). As far as the games counting, it seems to me rather arbitrary to say some count and some don’t. For those players trying to make MLB rosters, a chance to play in the WBC or Cactus League games certainly counts. Baseball is a beautiful game whether its played in Fenway or the park down the street.
Posted 03/04 at 08:59 PM
Sal Paradise said...
As an ex-pat in the land of the Rising Sun (temporarily renamed Ichiro-ville until he departs), I feel it is my duty to spout my uneducated opinions on this matter.
To quote the former manager of the Hanshin Tigers on Team USA this morning when asked about how he thought they would do, “US? Ha! Why worry about them? They don’t have anything to prove. Japan actually has their heart in this, unlike the Americans full of their Major League Players.”
Korea? They get to miss their compulsory military service if they win. I’m sure that there’s no jingoism in that.
The US is huge. Other countries aren’t. We have more interest in local teams because they are the world’s best, and they’re nearby. We are a country of immigrants, much moreso than most other competitors in the WBC.
It’s not the same. The quality of play isn’t the same. That’s why it’s different and less appealing to so many.
Posted 03/04 at 11:49 PM
John Beamer said...
Interesting perspective. A very American perspective. Few American sports are played internationally (competitively), which is why you feel the way you do.
However, I dispute that we’re in a world where nation to nation competition does not matter. In fact it is among the best competition there is.
Take the Soccer World Cup for instance. Without any doubt that is the most awesome sporting event to take place ever. Period. The many nationality bring together an atmosphere that you can’t replicate in any country. Iran vs USA ... come on, that is magical. Great rivalries exist on a nation basis. That is the beauty of national competition and is why is any true team competition (ie, not baseball, football, basketball) is at its best when played between nations - soccer, rugby, cricket, athletics ...
Posted 03/05 at 05:35 AM
It only seems contrived because it’s new. What’s more contrived, developing a league where teams from select cities play against eachother, or assimilating nation-based teams for competition? I don;t know, seem pretty equal to me.
Tough to get a read on you sometimes. Your politics are liberal, but when it comes to baseball you want your traditional American values. Interesting.
Posted 03/05 at 08:56 AM
Craig Calcaterra said...
I’m an enigma wrapped in a riddle, Tad.
To be honest, there is a strong strain of small c conservativeness about me. It may be too complicated to go into here, but for all of the progressive things I believe in, if I had omnipotent powers and could make the world in exactly the way that would comfort me most, it would look an awful lot like the 1930s-1950s, adjusted for racial and gender equality and enlightenment with respect to labor conditions.
Yeah, there are a lot of contradictions if not impossibilities there, I know, but in my mind I’m always wearing a fedora and walking thorough town to an old ballpark after stopping at the automat for a sandwich and a cup of coffee.
Posted 03/05 at 09:26 AM
syntax police said...
@grammar police: those are typos of the orthonographical variety, not a confusion of grammatical conventions.
also, craig, couldn’t agree more about the whole sports nationalism thing being passe. though i find it far worse than passé, it’s depressing, sickening and borderline pathological in this day in age. as they say, nationalism is the last resort of a scoundrel. just grow up already.
that said, I am in favor of the WBC, as an exhibition in the late barn storming tradition. as long as people don’t take it too seriously, which thankfully seems to be the case for most Americans.
ps U!S!A! U!S!A! U!S!A!
Posted 03/05 at 11:34 AM
Thomas J. Comer said...
Posted 03/05 at 12:52 PM
Charles Kitchen said...
I guess this is not your favorite onion article.
Posted 03/05 at 01:13 PM
Thanks for responding, Craig. I disagree with you somewhat, but I understand your mindset. The more competitive baseball, the better, IMO.
Posted 03/05 at 02:54 PM
“I’m an enigma wrapped in a riddle, Tad.”
Amen, brother. Amen. Good stuff.
Posted 03/05 at 06:59 PM
Hanguk Expat said...
I think your distaste for nationalistic competition suffers a bit from an American-who-hasn’t-lived-in-a-different-country-perspective. I’m all for global oneness as well, but I’d argue that increased globalization is exactly why tournaments like this should continue stronger than ever. For all its benefits, leaving your home country to live for several years is a very painful process. Very rewarding, but still painful. Guys like Daisuke yearned to join mlb, but I can pretty much guarantee you his heart will always be with Japan. The more international this game becomes, the more I think we need to step back and allow the players show their roots, and the WBC is a great way of doing that.
Flag waiving may seem trite to Americans because we’re from the country where people gather to play, but it can be a very real and emotional experience for the nation states that export their players. It’s harder to understand this pride sometimes because we Americans aren’t actually a nation state, but rather a multinational state at the center of world affairs. We’re the talent importers, not exporters. If the stronger trend was for Americans to play in Japan, I’d bet we’d jump at the chance to waive our flags and show what our country can do.
The trick in today’s world is to become more globally minded while still taking the time to recognize the extraordinary diversity of our backgrounds. Some good ‘ol friendly competition can be an excellent way of doing that.
Posted 03/06 at 05:46 AM