Evaluating The World Baseball Classic And Its MLB ImpactPosted on March 12, 2013
Each week, PressBox baseball writers weigh in with their thoughts about a different question. This week, Stan "The Fan" Charles and Paul Folkemer discuss the World Baseball Classic -- whether it should continue, how it could improve and how it affects MLB teams and players as they prepare for the 2013 season.
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
We are currently witnessing the third installment of the World Baseball Classic. The first was held in 2006 and the second in 2009.
Quick, can you name the winner of either the 2006 or 2009 tournament? Don't know? I didn't think so.
This event is sanctioned by the International Baseball Federation and created by Major League Baseball, the MLB Players Association and other professional leagues and their players all across the world. It's been the marketing brainstorm of MLB commissioner Bud Selig, the first of any sort of worldwide tournament.
The biggest problem with such an event is that because the United States is involved, it holds greater importance for the other nations who want to knock off the United States than it does the United States itself. That said, this year's U.S. roster does include some of the best in professional baseball, such as Adam Jones, Joe Mauer, Gio Gonzalez, R.A. Dickey, Giancarlo Stanton, Ryan Braun, Jimmy Rollins and David Wright.
But trying to shoehorn this event during a time when baseball's best players would normally just be rounding into shape causes a true conflict among MLB, its teams and the MLBPA. Consequently, MLB aces such as Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia and David Price are not on the U.S. team. There are major injury concerns, and, to date, the injury to Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira's forearm/elbow, which will sideline him for 8-10 weeks, is the most serious one that has come about.
Locally, Orioles fans will remember that Jeremy Guthrie's worst season with the O’s came after competing for Team USA. Although he didn't publicly complain, Guthrie had pushed more than he should have during the WBC so as not to let his team or his country down.
The WBC is an unrealistic attempt at creating something that purports to celebrate the finest in baseball. It proves nothing, at least as far as the USA's ability to field the best team. For me, if the United States and its players were totally committed, maybe then it would have a true value.
But right now, it's a huge distraction and annoyance.
By Paul Folkemer
OK, I'll say it: I like the World Baseball Classic. I know it has its detractors, particularly among MLB players and coaches, but I find myself watching as many of the WBC games as I can. During the lull of a long spring training, when pitchers are throwing at half speed and the big-name players are leaving games during the fourth inning, there's something refreshing about being able to watch games that have some meaning.
But regardless of how I -- or other American fans -- feel about the WBC, we're not the target audience here. After all, those of us living in the United States already get to watch the most competitive, highest level of baseball in the world every April through October. We've already been won over by the national pastime. No, the real purpose of the WBC is to spread interest and enthusiasm for baseball to other parts of the globe, especially European countries that normally wouldn't give a second thought to baseball.
In that respect, I think the WBC has been successful. Even if interest isn't especially high in the United States, other countries that have hosted games during this year's classic have had huge, enthusiastic crowds filling the stands to support their home teams. For many, the WBC is the ultimate tournament of athletic patriotism, and a chance to earn international bragging rights.
Although I'm in favor of the WBC continuing, there's no doubt there are a few problems with the event. The biggest concern, of course, is the timing of the tournament. It takes place at the beginning of March, which puts active major league players -- pitchers especially -- in a difficult position. That's the time of year when they're supposed to be returning from their winter break, gradually getting themselves back into top form during the course of a month. But those who play in the WBC aren't able to carefully work themselves back up in small increments. Instead, they're essentially being thrown right into the fire, asked to be in competitive, full-go mode almost immediately.
Even though the WBC has put safety measures in place, including pitch limits, many major league players have understandably decided that they don't want to take the risk of upsetting their usual spring routine. Many of the biggest stars in MLB have turned down invitations to the WBC, which dampens the star power that tournament organizers had hoped to have.
The Orioles have had issues with the WBC the two previous times it was held. During the inaugural WBC in 2006, four-fifths of the Orioles' regular rotation -- Erik Bedard, Rodrigo Lopez, Daniel Cabrera and Bruce Chen -- left the team in spring to represent their respective countries in the WBC, which threw the Orioles' spring training plan out of whack. All but Bedard ended up having terrible seasons.
In 2009, O's ace Jeremy Guthrie pitched in the WBC and got knocked around, then had his worst season as an Oriole. There's no evidence in either case that these pitchers struggled because of their WBC participation, but their altered spring schedule certainly could have been a factor. This year, reliever Pedro Strop is the only O's pitcher taking part in the WBC; it'll be worth keeping an eye on his performance during the course of the season.
All in all, I'm a fan of the World Baseball Classic, which lets people all over the world share in the excitement of baseball. But until the WBC can cut down on the perceived health risks to players, it will always have its share of critics.
Posted March 12, 2013