The World Baseball Classic (WBC) was founded in 2005 and debuted in 2006 as a baseball version of the FIFA World Cup. Despite the existence of both Olympic Baseball and the Baseball World Cup when the WBC began (neither of which still exists), the WBC was able to survive and now is the world’s premier international baseball tournament.
From the start, most of the interest that the WBC has garnered has come from countries like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Japan, and Chinese Taipei. But so far, the WBC hasn’t really caught on in the USA. Here are some possible reasons why.
First, despite having many great players contributing offensively, Team USA lacks big-name pitching talent. Team USA’s starting pitchers in their first three games were R.A. Dickey of the Toronto Blue Jays, Ryan Vogelsong of the San Francisco Giants, and Derek Holland of the Texas Rangers. That isn’t a bad starting rotation by any means, but it also isn’t close to being the best starting rotation Team USA could have sent. If the best pitchers in America all played in the WBC, none of the three starting pitchers listed above would have made the team. The game one starter would have been Justin Verlander, and games two and three would have been started by Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw. These pitchers may not be playing for Team USA because the WBC comes right at the beginning of Spring Training and pitchers aren’t in midseason form yet. Pitchers’ arms aren’t totally in shape until early April. They are on a very strict routine, and if they change that routine for even just a few weeks, it can mess up their arms and mental makeup. The potential reward of winning the WBC isn’t significant enough to entice the best pitchers in America to risk part of their MLB seasons to pitch for Team USA.
Another reason why many big-name players may decide not to participate in the WBC is to avoid injury. Like pitchers wanting to keep their arms in shape, some fielders believe the risk of getting injured is higher if they are playing in a tournament under pressure rather than just getting in shape during Spring Training. This is obviously a legitimate reason for players to decide not to participate. The Major League Baseball season is unique in its length (162 games) and it is very unusual for players to play more than 150 games in a season. It takes peak physical health for a player to make it through that many games, so taking the full Spring Training process to get their bodies prepared for the grueling season is understandable. Again, the potential reward just isn’t great enough to entice some of the best players in America to risk part of their MLB seasons to play for Team USA. Also, Major League owners don’t want to risk their well-paid stars getting hurt either.
Although Team USA lacks some of the best American players, particularly pitchers, they have been playing really well during this year’s competition, and winning is definitely a possibility (knock on wood). If Team USA gets some veteran leadership from Joe Mauer, Jimmy Rollins, and (if healthy) David Wright, then they very well may be able to win the WBC. That would be the ultimate step in making the WBC popular with American fans. We love winners!
After losing their opening game to Mexico, Team USA won two thrilling come-from-behind games against Italy and Canada to qualify for the second round. In their opening second round game, Team USA defeated Puerto Rico 7-1. In their next game, a hyped showdown against the Dominican Republic (birthplace of approximately 10% of major league ballplayers), Team USA lost in an exciting game that was tied 1-1 until the ninth inning. With the loss, Team USA plays Puerto Rico again tonight in a win-or-go-home game. The winner of tonight’s game will move on to the final round in San Francisco, while the loser will be eliminated from the tournament. If Team USA makes it to San Francisco, I predict the country will wake up to the excitement of the WBC.