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Fixin' the WBC: Revisited

No doubt following the lead of Sue's, ESPN's Jason Stark has decided that the World Baseball Classic needs a fixin'.

He outlines the problems with the WBC, bringing up many of the same points we did, while adding that the WBC has reduced spring training to a meaningless exercise. This is probably true, but is a small price to pay for the ability to hold a tournament like this every three or four years. However, his main problem with the Classic is the same as ours:

The best players aren't playing in it. Or if they are, many of them aren't ready for the demands of playing in it. Where's Josh Beckett? Where's Roy Halladay? Where are Brad Lidge and Joe Nathan? How wrong is it for Venezuela to be heading for the WBC Final Four without Johan Santana?

Very, very true. Of course, this is always going to be a problem when you are asking professionals to play in a tournament for free. When was the last time Steve Nash played for Canada? More to the point, notice that all the players mentioned above are pitchers. Most teams/countries are using their best available bats. But pitching a baseball in mid-season form is unlike any other ability in team takes the necessary buildup, arm strength and timing to be able to pitch effectively. As Jake Peavy pointed out in an interview last week, it's extremely hard for pitchers to be able to make the necessary adjustments in these games that actually count as they would in a regular season contest. Holding the tournament in December, January or February won't help that, either.

Stark's suggestion to fix this problem would be to hold the preliminary rounds of the WBC sometime before spring training, the second round during one week of spring training, then the semifinals and finals during the week of the All-Star break. There are some holes in this suggestion, mainly:

  • If players aren't necessarily jumping at the chance to play in a meaningful tournament when they go through the tedious nature of spring training, what makes you think the best of the best will be itching to give up a full few days of vacation in the middle of the season?
  • Most likely, the best pitchers will have pitched during the All-Star game, as well as a couple days prior to the break. Now you're asking them to pitch again that week? Again, I don't see the Halladays, Webbs and Becketts chomping at the bit for that opportunity.
  • Stark mentions in his article that front office folk around the majors are already against the WBC. Given the point above, what makes one think they'd like this idea any better? Their players are still playing full-speed in February/March, and now their best pitchers are going to be pitching in possibly three games that count during an off week? I don't see them buying it.
  • Why would you take an Olympic style tournament and break it up into a three-parts over the course of four months? This would kill the momentum of the event, and I don't see it helping the problem of growing interest here in the States.
Look, the timing of the WBC isn't ideal. In all honestly, there probably isn't an ideal time to host the event due to the unique nature of pitching as mentioned above. But lost in all this discussion is the fact that the WBC has been an unequivocal success overall thus far. I don't want to sound like a Euro-loving liberal, because, well, my pops would kill me, but maybe we shouldn't be trying to change the WBC to fit America's tastes.

The other nations have a higher percentage of their stars participating, their players appear better conditioned (most have been playing winter ball), and their fans are attending and watching the Classic in droves. They're not complaining about the precious tradition of spring training that is stolen once every four years or that there are faults with the structure of this tournament and they can't take it seriously. They just shut up and cheer for their country, and their players are following suit. I'd like to see the U.S. fans, players and other baseball-related personnel do likewise.

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