To the timid and to the wealthy, the World Baseball Classic is nothing more than a lame diversion, a way for Major League Baseball to make an easy buck fielding second-tier teams made up of nobodies while the real megastars of the game stay home lest they suffer some horrible, horrible injury trying to put the nail in Italy’s coffin.
This is an interesting way to defend the dignity and integrity of the baseball season, considering one could just as easily say the same thing about Spring Training, the All-Star Game, and every single instance of two non-contending teams facing each other during the regular season. It’s also interesting that when a multimillionaire athlete signs a ridiculous contract, the masses are up in arms but when that same multimillionaire athlete dares make an attempt to play two extra weeks of competitive baseball, the masses are yet again up in arms. It’s as though we as fans are either too stubborn or too stupid to make up our minds about what we really want from these men playing a boy’s game.
But make no mistake: here on 35th Street, the WBC is not just endorsed but fully embraced.
The 2006 tourney proved highly entertaining while also highly embarrassing when the ol’ United States team was bounced by South Korea and Mexico. Japan bunted with three-run leads just to remind everyone they could. Cuba warmed up relievers in the first inning. The Netherlands won but one game – a game that happened to be a 10-0 no-hitter of a Panama team anchored by our old friend Carlos Lee.
Obviously, it’s not as good a tournament as it could be. It’s hard, for example, to get excited for Korea-Japan games made theoretically awesome by virtue of centuries-old mutual resentment and quasi-futuristic styles of baseball but played at 3:30 in the morning. Plenty of players caved to their fear or that of their bosses, leaving a Team USA slightly less mighty than the All-Star juggernaut it might have been.
But you know what? You can forget those frivolous worries, and here’s why:
1. Your guy is not going to get hurt. They’re professional athletes. Their whole existence depends on staying in shape and playing baseball. If they injure something in the WBC, they were probably going to do the same damage during practice drills. In 2006, Luis Ayala required elbow surgery after a freak injury sustained during the WBC, but he was also coming off another elbow surgery he underwent two months before the tournament.
2. Pitchers are no worse off for participating. In 2006, the Chicago White Sox had two starting pitchers in the WBC: Freddy Garcia for Venezuela and Javier Vazquez for Puerto Rico. In 2006, the Sox’ two worst performances were turned in by non-WBC participants Mark Buehrle and Jose Contreras. Keep that in mind the next time Kenny Williams goes on the Score talking about looking out for his pitchers.
3. Team USA has all the firepower it needs. The roster for Team USA includes, among others, Derek Jeter, David Wright, Brian McCann, Chipper Jones, Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Braun, Adam Dunn, Shane Victorino, Curtis Granderson, Dustin Pedroia, Jake Peavy, Scot Shields, Roy Oswalt, Jonathan Broxton and J.J. Putz. Carlos Quentin and Grady Sizemore would have been nice additions, but can anyone honestly say this team is that much worse off without them?
4. Matt Thornton. Dude came into 2009 ready to play some baseball. Anyone who doesn’t want that out of their team’s reliever is a sucker.