Wednesday, March 4, 2009
World Baseball Classic Needs Tweaking
By Allen Bacon, Editor, The Daily Bosco
The World Baseball Classic opens on Thursday morning at 1:30 AM PST with a game between China and Japan.
As much as I am excited about the fact that second round action and the Championship game will be held near my home in Southern California there are some flaws in the approach for the Classic.
For the uninformed the World Baseball Classic is a tournament where theoretically the best players in the world, professional and amateur, are put on teams according to their nationality.
You would think that the United States would romp in this setting, but the fact was in 2006 (the tournament is held every three years) that a team from Japan comprised of all members of the Japan Professional Baseball League and a few amateurs and Ichiro Suzuki won the whole thing over a team from Cuba.
The United States didn't even make it to the Semi-finals thanks to a spirited and easily the most compelling game of the series when Team Mexico beat the USA to keep them from advancing.
One of the flaws of the Classic is that it is held in March. This is when everybody is in spring training or supposed to be in Spring Training. So you don't see players at their very best. Pitchers are on short pitch counts. Players are hesitant to run out ground balls or outfielders, as was the case with Ken Griffey Jr. in 2006, are overweight and can't get to flyballs like they should. Junior really had no business playing centerfield that year for Team USA.
I like the fact that the series is held every three years...better than four years...and better than one year where it would become too commonplace and taken for granted. But the Classic should really be held in the Summer. The professional leagues should shut down for two weeks and let the Classic be played when players are at their optimum performing level....the middle of the natural baseball season.
One of the reasons that Japan had to field a team of almost all Japan League Players in 2006 is that Major League owners were not allowing members of their teams to participate or putting pressure on them not to participate. You can see the reason why...they are protecting their investment.
The owners need to see the big picture here...baseball has a chance to promote itself on the international scene and attract more of an audience. So you let your player (who is heavily insured) go for a couple weeks to promote the game. The dividends in the long run will outweigh the risk of injury to that player. Besides that, the owners are allowing them to play against the best competition in the world. Your player is an advertisement for his pro team too. The benefits are all good.
This year the finals will be held in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium. Good for me. I get to go without too much expense since it's in my backyard. But bad for the rest of the world. I propose that the host country be the country that won it last. In 2009 it should have been Japan. Besides the fact that Japan has a great fan base who love both Pro Yakyu and Major League Baseball and would pack out Tokyo Dome every game of the Classic, the fact is that it would be in a roofed stadium in March. You only have to go back to the World Series this year to see the benefit of that.
You also could go back to the 2006 World Baseball Classic Championship game which was played in a rainstorm at Petco Park in San Diego and delayed a couple of times. That's because despite the sentiments of the 70's song...It actually does rain in California. In March.
Which brings up yet another situation...why are the semi-finals and the finals back in Southern California to begin with? Again, I love the fact I can go...it's a short train ride for me. But as long as those games are going to be played in the US, let's share the love and play the games in places like Seattle or Milwaukee or Tampa Bay...places that retractable roofs or permanent roofs where there would be no chance of a rainout or delay.
The World Baseball Classic starts Thursday. Follow the action by linking to audio and video via ESPN360.com and ESPN2