Putting the World in World Baseball Classic

The American performance in the World Baseball Classic has come as a surprise to nearly everyone. Wasn’t this the team favored to win the tournament? Weren’t these American All Stars, the top of the game playing America’s Pastime, supposed to show the rest of the World how classic baseball is to the United States?

Well, sure, but don’t sound the alarm yet. In my opinion, Team USA’s struggles in the WBC vindicate the tournament. Baseball is a worldly game, and as an All Star-laden Team USA plays on equal footing with the rest of the field, the games are showing that the World really belongs in the World Baseball Classic.

Not just an American pastime

Baseball is considered the quintessential American game. Along with apple pie and the Fourth of July, nothing is more evocative of America than a game of baseball played in a park on a sunny summer day. Yet, in our association with baseball, Americans often forget (or don’t know) that baseball has a history in other countries that stretches back nearly as long as it does here.

In the Caribbean and Latin American nations, baseball has been around since the middle of the 19th century. Cubans have been playing baseball since 1864 or nearly as long as Americans have. While the Major Leagues may be the oldest established professional baseball association, America was never the only place where baseball has been played.

Across the Pacific, the Japanese have played baseball for just as long as well. Some stories have baseball originating in Japan in 1872 thanks to an American sailor who brought the game with him on a visit. Other sources say the precursor to what we know of as baseball arrived in Japan in 1820. Similarly, baseball arrived in Korea in the mid-1800s and in Taiwan at the end of the 19th century.

While Japan, Korea, and Taiwan have become established talent pools for Major League Baseball with the past decade and a half, people on the western shores of the Pacific have been playing America’s pastime long enough for it to be Korea’s or Japan’s pastime as well.

In the Caribbean and Latin American nations, baseball’s popularity far surpasses that of the American version of the game. The Dominicans, the Puerto Ricans, the Cubans, and the Venezuelans live and breathe baseball. Major League Baseball has the World Series in name only. Baseball truly is an international phenomenon.

The Worldly Reach of the World Baseball Classic

In considering baseball’s rich international history, it is interesting to see how little Americans know about the global reach of the game. For many, baseball is America co-opted by the Japanese and brought back here in such timely classics as Mr. Baseball. We tend to view the game as something borrowed by foreign countries without realizing that these foreign countries have developed and contributed to the game just as much as Americans have.

At the same time, fans in foreign countries view American baseball traditions as neglectful of international traditions. As Bobby Valentine demonstrated in challenging the White Sox to a truly global World Series last November, fans in other parts of the world scoff at the term World Series. America’s championship series isn’t a World Series, they argue. It involves teams from just one country.

From this conflict arises the reason for the World Baseball Classic. The brainchild of Bud Selig, a divisive figure among the baseball literati, the WBC is supposed to promote baseball as an international game. Ostensibly a marketing campaign for Major League Baseball, it serves as an outreach tool for Americans and an educational tool for everyone else. The World is showing American fans that they can not only play baseball but beat the Americans at what we consider to be our own game.

Viewing the WBC through this prism, the tournament so far can be seen as an unqualified success. The games have been so popular that ESPN has dumped programming to fit more of the WBC games on TV, and it is only because March Madness lingers on the horizon that every tournament game isn’t available on ESPN or ESPN2. (This is a point of conflict for the tournament. In the future, the WBC organizers should schedule it so that it avoids the crush of the NCAA tournaments.)

The games themselves contain all of the drama of October baseball. Last night’s Dominican/Venezuela contest came down to the very last pitch in the 9th inning. Venezuela had the tying and go-ahead runs on base in an elimination game. The last American victory came with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th. The pitching in the second round has been stellar and the hits timely.

When we add the patriotic dimensions, we see players celebrating as though they’ve just won the World Series. The Dominican team ran onto the field to celebrate a World championship last night after downing Venezuela, one of their regional rivals. The fans show an outpouring of national pride and the players do too. The World Baseball Classic is truly Worldly in its appeal and in its outcomes. But what of America?

The American Baseball Conundrum

While we’ve seen Puerto Rican fans go nuts in the stands, Cuban fans become embroiled in deep-seated political tensions, and Dominican fans showing their undying love for Big Papi, Albert Pujols and others, in America, the outpouring of support has been more like a trickle. Americans seem to be the least enthusiastic of all supporters. While Jim Caple tried to rally the troops today, American support for Team USA has been lukewarm at best.

As best as I can tell, Americans were expecting this tournament to be boring. They expected to trample the competition, and watching Team USA – a team made up of not quite the best players in the country – struggle has turned many people off from the team. While Americans may watch the Dominican Republic and Cuba battle it out in the semifinals, we can’t get too excited by Al Leiter and Randy Winn playing the Canadians.

The twist to the tale is that American disinterest in the event is not a bad thing. The World Baseball Classic was meant to be an international event. As long as people are watching the other games, the tournament is a success.

Furthermore, the problem of American disinterest may fix itself before the next WBC in a few years. Already big names are expressing their regret at dropping out, and Barry Bonds has even said he may play in the next round. I would be that in 2009, many fewer players will opt out of the tournament. Those that do will have legitimate excuses.

So as the tournament enters its final week, Bud Selig has a legitimate success on his hands, and the World Baseball Classic has proven to be better than I or anyone else thought it would be. If Major League Baseball can turn the success of the WBC into a greater international appeal for baseball, the level of play in the Major Leagues could see a huge influx of talent for overseas markets. While it is much to early to proclaim this victory, the World Baseball Classic could go a long way toward putting the World in Major League Baseball and putting the World into the World Series.

Advertisements

RSS River Ave. Blues

  • Open Thread: March 23rd Camp Notes March 23, 2017
    Your browser does not support iframes.The Yankees neither won nor lost today. They tied. First of the spring. The Yankees were down 5-0, then they chipped away and tied the game in the top of the ninth. There’s the ol’ Fighting Spirit. Aaron Hicks had a double and a walk while Aaron Judge had a […] The post Open Thread: March 23rd Camp Notes appeared first o […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Could Didi Gregorius’ injury be Rob Refsnyder’s opportunity? March 23, 2017
    Didi Gregorius‘ injury is unfortunate in every way, even if he may only miss a month of the season. The Yankees don’t have a ready-made replacement and, much more importantly, a key cog of their future has to deal with an injury that can set him back after he made strides last season and hoped […] The post Could Didi Gregorius’ injury be Rob Refsnyder’s oppo […]
    Steven Tydings
  • The Middle Relief Duo [2017 Season Preview] March 23, 2017
    The Yankees have had an elite bullpen most every year for what feels like an eternity at this point, owing largely to the incomparable Mariano Rivera, and the ability to churn out high-end relievers that would close for most teams (particularly David Robertson and Dellin Betances, who spent most of their time with the team pitching […] The post The Middle Re […]
    Domenic Lanza
  • Spring Training Game Thread: Montgomery’s Big Chance March 23, 2017
    This afternoon left-hander Jordan Montgomery will make his first and possibly only Grapefruit League start. The Yankees have two open rotation spots and two open bullpen spots, and Montgomery has opened enough eyes this spring that he’s now being considered for the Opening Day roster. Today will be his best chance to show what he’s […] The post Spring Traini […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Jordan Montgomery and the prospect of an Opening Day roster spot March 23, 2017
    Later today left-hander Jordan Montgomery will make his first Grapefruit League start as the Yankees begin to bear down and really evaluate  their Opening Day roster candidates. They have two open rotation spots and two open bullpen spots, and lots of guys competing for them. Montgomery has pitched his way into Opening Day roster consideration […] The post J […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Open Thread: March 22nd Camp Notes March 22, 2017
    Your browser does not support iframes.The Spring Training of our dreams continued with another win this afternoon. Greg Bird crushed two no-doubt home runs, and I’m pretty sure the first one sailed out of the stadium. It looks like it cleared the chain link fence in center field in the first clip above, no? Chase […] The post Open Thread: March 22nd Camp Not […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Piecoro: Yanks believed to have some interest in Nick Ahmed March 22, 2017
    According to Nick Piecoro, the Yankees are believed to have some level of interest in Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed. Arizona has plenty of middle infielders (Ketel Marte, Chris Owings, Brandon Drury, Daniel Descalso) and they reportedly started gauging interest in Ahmed a few days ago. The Yankees will be without Didi Gregorius for a few […] The post Pie […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Same All-Star reliever but with minor concerns [2017 Season Preview] March 22, 2017
    For the last three years, I have essentially marked games as wins in my mind whenever Dellin Betances comes in. Sure, there have been a few blown saves here and there, but for the most part, the Yankees win when Dellin comes into the game whether they lead or are tied. And it isn’t just […] The post Same All-Star reliever but with minor concerns [2017 Season […]
    Steven Tydings
  • Spring Training Game Thread: In Search of a Shortstop March 22, 2017
    Thanks to Didi Gregorius‘ shoulder injury, the Yankees suddenly have an opening at shortstop that will last for at least the first few weeks of the regular season. They have a small army of okay-ish fill-in shortstops, and now they have to sort through them and figure out who can best handle the job. Opening […] The post Spring Training Game Thread: In Searc […]
    Mike Axisa
  • It’s official: Yankees name Greg Bird starting first baseman March 22, 2017
    As expected, Greg Bird has officially been named the starting first baseman. Joe Girardi made the announcement this morning, according to Andrew Marchand. Bird is hitting .421/.500/.947 with four home runs and eleven extra-base hits this spring, the most in baseball. He’s been the team’s best hitter all Spring Training. Bird, 24, missed all of […] The post I […]
    Mike Axisa

Blog Stats

  • 62,319 hits

%d bloggers like this: