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WBC-Who Bleepin Cares?

By Jason Levy
Right now, a handful of countries and several Major League Baseball stars are participating in the World Baseball Classic, what many in the baseball hierarchy hope becomes something akin to soccer’s World Cup for baseball. On that merit alone, it’s a pretty good idea. Lots of other sports have international competitions featuring the world’s best performers. Every tennis match is an international fight, as is golf, especially with the Ryder Cup. Basketball and hockey send their pros to the Olympics, with the NHL taking a two-week break in February to accommodate the players. MLB does something similar with this tournament in March during spring training, and the competition level is very similar with several different countries many with MLB talent, the US, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Japan each have several superstars, while Cuba is rich with talent outside the majors. But despite all that, there is only one thing I am thinking about when it concerns the WBC, and I‘m sure a lot of you feel the same way: I don’t care who wins as long as no Mets get hurt!
It’s not that I am un patriotic and rooting against Team USA but I don’t want to see David Wright careening down the third base line headed for a play-at-the-plate collision with Kenji Johjima or Ivan Rodriguez in a game that will in no way count towards anything the New York Mets do this season. If the US wins, well that’s just terrific. But not if the cost is a significant injury to Wright. Or to Jose Reyes on the DR team, or Carlos Beltran on the PR team. If Johan Santana was playing for the Venezuela team, all of Flushing would be on pins and needles just hoping he got out of the game before he got hurt. Seeing your player get injured in the WBC is like a football player getting hurt in a preseason game, it can dash a team’s plans before the season is even started.
That is the ultimate problem with having this tournament in early March. The real meat of baseball season is in the coming seven months. The teams are paying the players all the money, and the fans are dishing out their bucks to see the Mets, the Yankees, the Phillies, and the Red Sox. They’ll be more upset if they lose a player than if said player’s team doesn’t claim the WBC title. For the baseball starved these games will be a palatable appetizer to the upcoming summer marathon, but most are waiting for that main course before we dig in. College basketball is entering their high point with March Madness, and basketball and hockey are shuffling the standings as the playoffs loom.
One potential solution is to move the WBC to mid-December. That gives even the playoff participants six-to-eight weeks to prepare and another six-to-eight weeks off to get ready for spring training, a good window to recover from any injuries suffered during the tournament. That is about the same window for the NBA players that participate in Olympic Basketball. The biggest problem Bud Selig and the WBC head honchos would have with that plan is that it puts the WBC directly up against college and pro football as their regular season comes to a close. It’s very hard to get the sports media to pay attention to anything else during that time. Hockey and basketball seasons are just started and not getting the mass media and fan attention just yet, so there will be less competition for Neilsen eyes on the weekdays, but weekends will be dominated by the gridiron. And the WBC is simply a public relations tournament to spread the popularity of baseball, specifically Major League Baseball, across the globe. If publicity goes down, than why have the tournament?
The real winners of the WBC are countries like Japan and Cuba, the two finalists from the last WBC, countries that operate their own baseball leagues outside the US that are just as baseball crazy that would like to show they are better than the US and Caribbean teams. If smaller baseball countries like Italy, South Africa, or the Netherlands can win a few games and knock off some giants, it’ll be a nice story for their country. And for free agents like Pudge and Pedro, it’s a chance to show the 30 general managers and managers out there that they still have something left. The only real losers are the fans of any player that gets hurt during the tournament, and that player’s teammates, coaches, and organization. There are quite a few Atlanta Braves fans praying the Chipper Jones’s strained oblique muscle is back to normal by April 5th and that it doesn’t flare up over the next seven months. This may make some Mets fans giddy, but that feeling would turn to utter dread if Wright, Reyes, or Beltran suffered the same affliction. As long as everyone gets out of the WBC at 100%, we are all winners, no matter which is the last team standing.

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