Given my intense love for baseball and my somewhat obnoxious patriotism, one would assume I’m living and dying with every pitch of the World Baseball Classic. But I’m just not. I’m having trouble caring a whole lot about it, and it’s time to explore why.
The tournament is supposed to expand the game’s market outside the U.S., but in order to be relevant, it also has to attract U.S. fans, and I should be an easy target. But I don’t care that much. Here are some reasons why this might be, and how we might be able to fix them.
1. It’s March
Don’t get me wrong, baseball is wonderful in any month and season, but the fact that it is March has many drawbacks for this kind of event. First, a lot of players are begging off because they aren’t ready for the season and don’t want to risk injury. If the WBC happened midseason, it might make certain players more likely to participate. They may still not want to do it, but I’m sure at least some players would play who otherwise didn’t. And it’s hard to really care about the WBC when the world’s best players aren’t there. No Verlander, Kershaw, Price, Hernandez, Lee, Trout, Harper, McCutchen, Posey, etc. It’s hard to think of this as anything but glorified exhibition when the U.S. is starting Ryan Vogelsong in an elimination game. Second, even if players were willing to play in March, they aren’t in game shape. If we really want to showcase baseball, don’t we want Justin Verlander and Mike Trout playing in midseason form? We have Spring Training so players can get their timing and get ready for the season, I don’t want to watch players compete for world glory who haven’t had more than 20 ABs yet.
2. The Rules are Silly
I’m mostly talking about these pitch count rules that limit starters to a number of pitches in each round and restrict relievers to certain resting periods given how many pitches they threw the day before. This is an artifact of the tournament taking place in March, and it’s stupid. If your ace pitcher is dominating, he has to come out in the first round after like 75 pitches. How can we really get excited about the WBC when the rules make the game so different from how it should be played? It’s basically the Little League World Series with older players.
3. We Should Be Cheering Against the United States
What? Remember how I said the purpose of the WBC is to expand baseball into other markets? Well it doesn’t do much good if the U.S., Venezuela, and Japan win all the time. Upstart teams like the Netherlands or Italy making deep runs into the WBC would be ideal. We want fans who don’t follow baseball to start following baseball. That doesn’t happen if the countries that already like baseball beat their countries 11-2. So it’s hard for me to get excited about the WBC because the best outcome on the whole is not the outcome I wish to see personally.
4. There is Other Baseball Going On
Specifically, Spring Training. My team is preparing for the season, and I’m interested in following roster battles and player preparations. It’s not that I don’t want more baseball, it’s that my attention is split. Sure I’d like to follow WBC games, but the WBC should be the only game in town when it’s going on. It’s once every four years, let’s take a week or ten days off in July so that it’s the only thing on the menu. We can all watch the WBC and only the WBC. Even if the other problems didn’t exist, it’s better for the WBC to not have to compete with the start of MLB.
5. I Love My Team More Than My Country
I hope I never run in a Republican primary now that I’ve put that in writing, but I’m pretty sure that it’s the truth. A friend of mine asked me why Verlander wasn’t pitching in the WBC and I told him the standard reasons he gave when he decided against it. And you know what? I’m glad Verlander didn’t play in the Classic. I’m glad Sanchez and Cabrera got knocked out early. I don’t want Fielder or Scherzer or Jackson playing in the WBC because I don’t want them to get hurt doing something other than playing for the Tigers. I care way more about the Tigers 2013 season than I do about the baseball pride of my country. It matters more to me that the Tigers are ready for the season than that my country does well, so I selfishly don’t want my favorite players involved. I imagine many feel the same way. I lamented about that the game’s best don’t play in the WBC, which makes the tournament cheap, but I’m glad that’s the case. I’d rather the U.S. lose to freaking Canada in the WBC than they win at the cost of one of my team’s players getting injured because he played in games before he was ready. This might make me a bad American, but I think it makes me an excellent fan.
So it’s just hard for me to get excited about the WBC. To solve this, let’s move the tournament to the All-Star Break and skip the game every four years. We can shift the format to limit play to 10-14 days rather than closer to twenty. We also need to incentivize players to participate and get rid of the silly rules that turn the games into farcical approximations of baseball. Finally, there needs to be a reason to cheer for the U.S. above patriotism. Baseball is better off if a new market beats the U.S., so there needs to be a reason why that isn’t so. I’m not sure what that is. Maybe if we let the previous winner host the next WBC, so there is actual benefit to winning in terms of start times and in person viewing chances.
I love baseball and I’m glad there are quasi-meaningful games on right now, but I just can’t be bothered to care a whole lot. It makes no difference to me who wins and it’s not like we’re watching real world class baseball. Lots of the game’s best players are participating, but many aren’t. If people in Italy don’t get to watch Verlander and Trout, what the hell are we having a WBC for anyway? This should be a showcase, but instead it feels like a joke. Plus, good grief there is way too much bunting. Like an absurd amount of bunting.
Love the WBC? Tell me why I’m wrong. Hate it? Agree with me in writing. Join the discussion in the comments section or on Facebook/Twitter. Also, I’m given to understand people sometimes communicate in person, so you could always try just talking about the WBC with your social group.