Saturday, March 2, 2013

World Baseball Classic

The World Baseball Classic is upon us. And I don't like it.

At least I don't like it in it's current form.

I like the concept. International competition among the top professional athletes in sports where the talent pools is diverse are the highest level competitions imaginable. Soccer has the World cup, a month-long tournament played every 4 years (separately Men's and Women's; they also have the Olympics, which is sometimes used as a second-tier tournament). Basketball has had International Championships and the Olympics, but I don't know what they have now because I became so disinterested in it. Hockey has their own World Cup (which has no real schedule), and before that, Canada's Cup and the Summit Series (with the old Soviet Union), as well the Olympics every 4 years. Those are some of the greatest competitions on ice, topping even the most dramatic Stanley Cup Finals.

It makes sense that the now-defunct Olympic baseball tournament and the World Baseball Classic are supposed to fall in line with Soccer, Basketball, and Hockey. But there's something missing. First, the Olympics dropped Baseball from the 2016 Rio Games. The Summer Olympics were always held during the MLB season, so it was never the top MLB players playing. Olympic Baseball never caught on as the type of competition that Olympic Basketball and Olympic Ice Hockey are.

So MLB invented the World Baseball Classic, supposed to have started play in 2005 and then every 4 years after that (there was some issue that delayed the first tournament until 2006, but keeping the math based on 2005, so 2009, 2013, and 2017, etc. for the subsequent tournaments). Okay, so why is it a joke? Oh yes, because it takes place during MLB's Spring Training season. It takes place not during the middle of the season when interest is high, or during the offseason when players are all available, but during MLB team's training camp.

It takes place at a time when players are supposed to be getting ready for the season, building up their strength (legs, hitting, and/or pitching), they are taken out of exhibition games getting ready for the job for which they are paid and moved into a high-level tournament. Pitchers are the biggest concern because they are commonly on pitch and inning counts during Spring Training and these days, they are also commonly coming off of injuries and/or surgery in the offseason and are really just getting their feet wet at this point in the MLB season when they are being asked to leave their jobs to play in this higher-level tournament. Or, the more common case, players are asked by their teams NOT to go play for their country and leave camp to play in the WBC, or sometimes, the player decides on their own that they can't play in the WBC. Past tournaments (and I don't know about this year) have had pitch counts for MLB pitchers (I don't know about the wealth of pitchers from other leagues, such as Japan).

I don't think a serious International tournament can have something such as pitch counts and players that are just warming up after an off-season slumber (offseason workouts are more likely the case than offseason slumber these days). So many players missing, and so many not in their top form.

Of course, there probably isn't a good time in which to hold the WBC. Especially if you want to rule out stopping or diluting the MLB's regular season in order to play this thing (I don't know the timing with respect to other leagues, such as in Japan). Offseason? I don't know. Pitchers are tired. Players are tired. Yes, there is a break for most of them in October and early November when they don't go to the post season. But there's surgery for pitchers in the offseason (I consider it more like an oil change and wheel alignment than rebuilding the transmission in most cases). Finishing right before Spring Training starts? Then you need a couple weeks of a training camp probably in January in order to build the pitchers up enough to play, and for the teams going out quickly, it's a stop and start scenario for them, which may not be real good. Video game only? It would be good in a video game to be able to build your own tournament format and play it, but if it's only in a video game, that doesn't help at all. But maybe this is all only a problem we have here in America with MLB players, and that's part of the reason why Japan and Korea have been a lot more successful than Team USA.

But it's baseball. Enjoy it.

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