Why I don’t like the WBC

JMB · March 2, 2006 at 11:15 pm · Filed Under General baseball 

I’ve been sitting on this post, but given that the games are starting up, now is as good a time as any.

I think the World Baseball Classic is a bad, bad idea. For starters, playing games that matter is a poor substitute for spring training, when the games don’t matter and you can gradually ease players into playing a full nine innings. The players, particularly the pitchers, aren’t in shape enough for this kind of thing, and it’s only a matter of time before some team’s star gets hurt and their pennant chances go out the window (we should thank our lucky stars Felix isn’t pitching, while at the same time crossing our fingers for Ichiro).

Even if you can get past that, the idea that this will determine anything is absurd because many of the best players in the world — wasn’t this the WBC’s #1 selling point? — aren’t even playing. Pedro? Out. Manny? Ditto. Vlad? Likewise. Japan’s top catcher, in camp with the M’s, isn’t playing. Melvin Mora, Billy Wagner, CC Sabathia, and Aramis Ramirez are among others who have pulled out of the tournament recently. Wagner and Sabathia were replaced on the US roster by — this isn’t a joke — Al “6.13 ERA” Leiter and Gary Majewski.

Throw in some far-fetched national eligibility — your great-grandfather once vacationed in Rome? Welcome to Team Italy! — and the whole thing is a sham, contrived by Bud Selig in an attempt to get us to care about the results of what amount to glorified spring training games.

For me, baseball started today because I heard Dave Neihaus on the radio, not because Korea beat Chinese Taipei in front of a mere 5,193 fans at the Tokyo Dome.


42 Responses to “Why I don’t like the WBC”

  1. Mat on March 2nd, 2006 11:59 pm

    I would say that having the World Baseball Classic in the spring is a bad, bad idea, but that the idea of having it is a good one. If they really could get all the big names to play, and it was at a time (say, in November), when it was more reasonable to expect player participation, I would be all for it.

    That said, I basically agree with all of your other points, especially the nationality thing, but that seems to crop up in nearly every international competition. (Hello U.S. Ice Dance Gold Medal!)

    The only upside for me in the current format is that I’ll get to see more baseball in March than I would otherwise. Provided that injuries don’t wind up detracting too much from the regular season, that’s a positive for me. That’s why I’m staying up until 1:30 to watch Japan play China.

  2. Mat on March 3rd, 2006 12:01 am

    (I just realized that I got the medal color wrong, so if you’ll excuse me, I have to go fire my fact-checker.)

  3. Hooligan on March 3rd, 2006 12:01 am

    Hmm. As much as I want to defend the WBC, I have to concede that it is a fatally flawed event. Selig’s thirst for foreign dollars is about as subtle as Anna Nicole on the pole vault.

    But surely there exists a workable formula for serious international competition? Are there no creative geniuses out there? Lock Billy Bean, Leo Mazzoni and Dave in a small room for twelve hours and something magical will happen.


  4. theberle on March 3rd, 2006 12:48 am


    I totally agree with you that the WBC is a horrible idea.

    That being said, your post reminded me to flip over to ESPN2 and now I’m watching baseball (although not live), something I haven’t done since October. And, that’s a good thing.

    Finally, hooligan, I should refrain from going here, but it’s late, so I will: If you lock Billy Bean, Leo Mazonni, and Dave in a small room for 12 hours, it’s a much different kind of magic than if you replace Bean with Beane.

  5. BelaXadux on March 3rd, 2006 12:54 am

    I’m with Mat on the whole: the timing of this event is just _terrible_. I have no doubt that if it survives, the schedule will change. The end of spring training seems to me the only viable time, the last week in March. Professional athletes from the US would at least be in shape and healthy then.

  6. vj on March 3rd, 2006 1:27 am


    I think your critizism is a bit too harsh. I agree that the timing of the event is bad. If you think that Selig is greedy, you should check out FIFA. Still, the Soccer worldcup is an event the whole world (safe for the north american continent) is excited about. As regards player elegibility, that is always an issue in international sports competition. Like other areas of life, it has to face and deal with immigration. Whether that is a good enough reason to have Mike Piazza play for Italy I don’t know (out of unfamiliarity with his roots) but then, countries with as little domestic Baseball as Italy probably shouldn’t be participating in the first place.

    Bottom line: I think it is good idea and once the tournament is over, people will see what can be done better next time around.


  7. matt2500 on March 3rd, 2006 2:05 am

    I’m reserving judgement. Like others, I think the timing is flawed, and the tournament would be better served being played in the fall, or the last week or so of March. Also, Italy? The Netherlands? South Africa? I guess they needed the 16 teams to make the brackets work, but really.

    That said, I’m separating questions about the execution of this particular tournament from my overall enthusiasm for this tournament in general. Once every four years (which is the long-term plan for the WBC) seems very doable. Baseball is a big deal in a lot of countries through a lot of the world.

    Look at soccer – the World Cup started because there was no soccer in the 1932 Olympics (not popular enough in the host US). And since the first cup was held in Uruguay, no European countries would commit to playing until a couple of months before the tournament, and only 13 countries played overall. Baseball has to start somewhere, too. Imagine how cool this tournament could be in thirty years, if fans worldwide consider it the true world championship.

    And, in his first AB, Ichiro rips a pitch into the right-field bleachers….foul.

  8. Trev on March 3rd, 2006 2:50 am

    The World Baseball Classic: Good for the game, bad for the players.

    If I’m a baseball owner/GM, there’s no way I’m letting my guys play unless the threaten to hold-out. The risk of injury is just too high, especially for pitchers. There is a huge difference between facing the University of Miami in an exhibition game than facing the Dominican Republic in a battle for who’s the best baseball nation in the land.

    To be honest though, this is the first real baseball since November, and I just printed up my TV schedule. Needless to say, I’m happy to watch baseball…until someone gets hurt.

  9. Trev on March 3rd, 2006 2:50 am

    That said, players like Miguel Tejada play winterball in the Dominican League, so how is this any different in terms of injury risk?

  10. Mat on March 3rd, 2006 2:53 am

    “The Netherlands?”

    They’re not a great team, but it’s not unreasonable to have them in the tournament. They’ve finished as high as 4th in world tournaments, and they get to draw on guys like Andruw Jones from the Netherlands Antilles. Plus, they’ve won 15 European championships. At the very least, they’re a much more justifiable invitee than South Africa.

    Best Dutch-born player ever? I can’t imagine there’s anyone from the Netherlands who’s close to Bert Blyleven.

  11. tyler on March 3rd, 2006 4:03 am

    Why I am excited to see the WBC:
    It gives people the opportunity to see how baseball is played in different countries (and its not the Olympics). It provides an alternative to the only brand of baseball I usually watch. It highlights why MLB is special (the top league made up of the top players).
    The WBC is fine, wheather somebody gets hurt or not. Does it compete with MLB? Does it complement it?

  12. zzyzx on March 3rd, 2006 5:33 am

    The injury thing IMO is so overblown. This isn’t football where players routinely get season ending injuries during practice. Most baseball injuries IMO are either pretty random (e.g. being hit by a baseball), reflect an underlying problem, or involve pitchers. I looked up injuries for 12 teams at the end of last season for a mini study I was doing in another forum comparing teams playing out the string to those who were in the pennant race (done because people were arguing that players were more likely to get injured in games that they cared about than those that they don’t) and two things struck me. First, there were slightly more injuries in the teams playing out the string, but secondly, there weren’t that many injuries.

    For the 12 teams over some 60 games, there were a combined 25 trips to the DL. Only 11 of them involved the season ending or a trip to the 60 Day DL. I wasn’t expecting that.

    Anyway, IMO, I don’t think there’s a higher expected injury rate for players in the WBC than if they stayed in Spring Training. Another study that might be interesting would be to look at players who are trying everything to break camp with the major league team; are there more injuries for players on the cusp of making the team than the general population?

    Anyway, while I’m not excited about this yet, it’s baseball on tv. Sure not every star is in it, but not every star plays in the olympics and those are fun to watch too. Give it 20-40 years, and this could easily be something that we get excited for, a break in the usual spring training routine.

    I wonder if people would be less opposed to this if the idea didn’t come from Selig…

  13. zzyzx on March 3rd, 2006 5:45 am

    Oh and I guess I should say why I like the WBC. It’s baseball on national television in March. The games won’t be like spring training games that end up being non-prospects facing each other by the 7th (but I watch those too). Talk to soccer fans. See how they feel about the World Cup. This is our chance to have something like that down the road. If the first 2-3 of these go well, I’m excited about the future potential.

    Perhaps a big difference is that I’ve been wishing for something like this for decades where others see it as being imposed upon them.

  14. Baseline on March 3rd, 2006 6:17 am

    WBC = Joke

    I’m still trying to fathom why people are trying to compare the WBC to the World Cup of Soccer. You might as well be comparing apples and nails.

    This reeks of being “Thrown together”.

  15. jerful on March 3rd, 2006 6:45 am

    I heard that Australian baseball fans are really excited about the WBC, and anything that gets Australians more into baseball is good to me.

  16. zzyzx on March 3rd, 2006 7:09 am

    I’m still trying to fathom why people are trying to compare the WBC to the World Cup of Soccer. You might as well be comparing apples and nails.

    Sure the WBC isn’t the World Cup. However, if you ever want to have a World Cup to ever be able to happen, it has to start somewhere. I’m not as excited about the 2006 edition as the 2026 one, but you can’t have that one without this.

  17. Zero Gravitas on March 3rd, 2006 7:30 am

    I think the implementation of the WBC is obviously flawed this year, but I’m glad it’s happening. It has a chance to make my favorite sport more popular in a lot of countries, and can in that way expand the pool of talent willing to play the game in the future. Look at today’s result – Japan beats China 18-2. You think the Chinese enjoy getting whipped like that by Japan in anything? Now Chiina has an excuse to promote baseball and get better at developing talent. Theyre spending a fortune on sports development anyway. Imagine if millions of kids in China started seriously playing baseball over the next couple of years. It’s good for MLB down the line. Whether it really proves which country is best is dubious but to me that’s not the point, especially the first time around. Also, as long as Chris Snelling is not representing Australia I am not convinced it will create a ton of injuries that wouldn’t have happened anyway.

  18. Dave Sund on March 3rd, 2006 8:00 am

    I think that it’s not quite as good as it could be. But I’m really thrilled to see some players I don’t normally get the chance to watch. Seeing Japan just throttle China was pretty fun, especially since I haven’t seen a baseball game in months. Have to wonder how many of these players will be in Major League uniforms come 2007.

  19. Jerry on March 3rd, 2006 8:01 am

    You guys are focusing on details (scheduling, rosters) and totally missing the big point here.

    First, the WBC has the potential to be great for the sport in general. This thing could raise the profile of baseball in a major way. The game is getting more international every year, and this will rapidly accelerate the process. That is a good thing. Baseball is an awesome sport. This could get more people watching it.

    Second, things like scheduling and rosters this year are totally irrelevant. They may matter for this first year of the event, but in the long-term, this competition is just a trial run. Are there bugs to work out? Sure. But to schedule this thing, the organizers of the WBC had to make the event the most palatable to the teams. Right now, it is an exhibition event. However, you have to start somewhere, and if this thing is successful this year, it will be more serious next time. People are looking at this event in a vacuum instead of seeing it for what it is: a first go at something that could be huge in 10 years.

    Third, players get hurt. Undoubtedly, some players will get hurt in the WBC. Players also get hurt in spring training. Soccer players get injured in the World Cup too, but that hasn’t stopped the event from being the best sports competition in the world. Some teams are more likely to be impacted by the WBC than others. In particular, teams that invest a lot of international scouting and big-market teams are the most likely to lose players to injury. Unfortunately, both of those statements apply to the Mariners. However, you have to look beyond the narrow interest in your favorite team and consider the sport in general.

    The WBC is a bold undertaking. However, you can’t fault MLB for wanting this. It has the potential to expand the popularity of the sport in ways that most people don’t seem to consider. You shouldn’t expect this thing to be perfect this year. A lot of the details will be refined in the next few go-throughs. But most of the problems (scheduling, players backing out, international interest) will fix themselves if this first competition is a success. People in Latin America are going to be really excited about this. If the US loses (and I am hoping that they do), and the competition level is high, the tournament will get more and more popular.

    Eventually, this thing could be nearly as important as the regular season. It may not be ideal for the narrow interestes of each club, but special interests are always an obstacle to prositive changes in all realms of life. I don’t see this as any different. Lets give this thing a chance.

  20. Jerry on March 3rd, 2006 8:08 am

    I’m still trying to fathom why people are trying to compare the WBC to the World Cup of Soccer. You might as well be comparing apples and nails.

    The World Cup of Soccer is exactly that this thing could be in a decade or so.

    Nobody is expecting this thing to be that big in year 1. It would be silly to expect that. But that level of competition should be the long-term goal.

    The World Cup is the greatest sporting event in the world. It is a huge reason why Soccer is the top sport in the world.

    The WBC is about raising the status of baseball on the global level. Right now, globally, baseball is an obscure little sport. Expanding interest in baseball is in everyone’s best interest.

  21. jloris on March 3rd, 2006 8:45 am

    1. I’d much rather see something along the lines of the Champions League tournament if we must put U.S. baseball on the world stage. But that’s probably just my body’s natural rejection of the patriotic pap that goes with these “national” teams.

    2. Can we really compare the soccer and baseball injury situation so blithely here? I don’t know a whole lot about soccer, but my intuition is that the positional variations in baseball are much more stark, and the relative availability of, say, quality pitchers is much lower than the relative availability of any particular position in soccer. Additionally, the maintenance and care of a pitching arm (and likely the backs of professional hitters) is a much more delicate issue than just being able to run for two hours without pulling a hammy.

  22. zzyzx on March 3rd, 2006 8:56 am

    Additionally, the maintenance and care of a pitching arm (and likely the backs of professional hitters) is a much more delicate issue than just being able to run for two hours without pulling a hammy.

    If that were the case, wouldn’t there be noticeably more injuries in baseball than soccer? Is that the case?

  23. DMZ on March 3rd, 2006 9:11 am

    But to schedule this thing, the organizers of the WBC had to make the event the most palatable to the teams.

    Have you read the coverage on this? The teams absolutely don’t want it now — they want it after the season, if it occurs at all.

  24. Mock on March 3rd, 2006 9:16 am

    Hmmm…as someone who lived for an extended period of time (three years) in Australia, a country that is not exactly baseball-mad but does have some followers and has produced some quality players, I like the WBC. Now, the timing might be wrong, but I don’t know when else it would be better. And I hope they only run it once every four years, and I wish they would have just called it the Baseball World Cup, but I still think that with all of its inherent flaws, it will be a good way to spread the game. And that is its intended goal. Well, that and be another feather in the cap of goold ol’ Bud.

  25. jloris on March 3rd, 2006 9:27 am


    Short answer to the question you ask: don’t know.

    But to me the more important question is: Will MLB have more injuries to a relatively scarce commodity without the observance of a time-tested maintenance and “warmup” program (Spring Training)?

    Also, and here’s more rampant speculation (and I know Dave and DMZ would say, “The data are out there, idjit, look it up!”), but I suspect that there are more contact-related injuries in soccer than there are to pitchers in baseball. I suspect that most of the injuries to pitchers come from the act of pitching itself, and, the improper usage and maintenance of the equipment involved in that act.

    At least, this seems to be the lesson learned from the Mariner’s history.

    More rambling…

    If a soccer player in any country goes down, I suspect there are a lot more “replacement level” or better players available to take his spot than there are pitchers, and maybe even hitters.

    Don’t take this to mean any disrespect for the skill level involved in soccer (it’s sport #2 in my book) — it’s just demographics and specialization.

  26. zzyzx on March 3rd, 2006 9:43 am

    Yeah I don’t know either, was just throwing out a question. I also don’t know about the talent differentiation in soccer. It’s a lot harder to tell in a game that doesn’t (and can’t for that matter) have the statistical base that baseball does.

    I guess I’m not convinced that Spring Training is a time tested maintenance and warmup program as much as it’s just something that evolved and now is assumed to be safe because it’s been around for so long. Like I said, the one study that could work is the injury difference between pitchers who are trying to make (or stay) on a team vs those who know that their job is safe. The former group would be trying to impress from day one of Spring Training whereas the latter is using it as a time to get ready for the season. However, one flaw comes to mind immediately in that pitchers with an injury history are likely to be overrepresented in the former group.

    We should know more, obviously, in October when we can see if there’s any injury difference between players who were in the WBC and those who weren’t. I’m just not convinced the data is there now to conclude either way, and therefore I’m going to support this because the upside of the tournament excites me.

  27. MedicineHat on March 3rd, 2006 9:46 am

    From ESPN.com: http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/worldclassic2006/news/story?id=2352465

    TOKYO — Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Kosuke Fukudome hit back-to-back homers in the fifth inning Friday to lead Japan to an 18-2 rout of China in the World Baseball Classic.

    Seattle Mariners slugger Ichiro Suzuki, the only position player from the major leagues representing Japan, went 1-for-6 with 1 RBI. Hideki Matsui of the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox infielder Tadahito Iguchi opted to sit out the tournament.

    Suzuki drove in a run in the top of the third on a ground out to second that scored Tomoya Satozaki and gave Japan a 2-0 lead. He widened Japan’s lead to 12-2 in the top of the eighth when his deep fly ball to center was dropped by China’s Sun Lingfeng for an error.

  28. Zero Gravitas on March 3rd, 2006 10:39 am

    Although you do have a point about the Italian team. That roster is about as authentically Italian as the menu at Olive Garden. And possibly almost as cheesy (it has Ron Villone on it, for example).

  29. InSpo on March 3rd, 2006 11:33 am

    This view seems pretty selfish and short sighted. MLB is a big show and I love it, but these guys have to have another outlet. I will admit the timing is a little off.

    “aren’t even playing. Pedro? Out. Manny? Ditto. Vlad? Likewise. Japan’s top catcher, in camp with the M’s, isn’t playing. Melvin Mora, Billy Wagner, CC Sabathia, and Aramis Ramirez are among others who have pulled out of the tournament recently.”

    I think some of them pulled out for various reasons. Vlad had a death in the family and he is not even at spring training. Jo-jo, wants to do well here, next year so he chose to hang out and do the work necessary. Many of the others, Manny, A-ram just have money on the brain.

    I think most of the MLB players playing in this are doing it more, because, they love the game of baseball and their country. They are all great compactors and if say Japan, D-R, or Venezuela had the same level of base ball as MLB many of the greatest players would not be here. Or another way to look at it is if, say there was an all Japan team playing in MLB Ichi would not do whatever he could to play there, or the same for Felix if there was an all Venezuela team.

    Your should all read this artical,

  30. Evan on March 3rd, 2006 12:15 pm

    Remember that some top soccer players decline to play in the World Cup, as well, because they need the time to rest for their club team. Dennis Bergkamp continued as a starting striker for Arsenal well after withdrawing from international play.

  31. Mock on March 3rd, 2006 12:23 pm

    Yes, but in soccer, Bergkamp, while very good, would not necessarily have made the team. None of the very, very elite stars of the football world pull out of the World Cup. Nor do they in the Rugby World Cup, or the Cricket World Cup. The Hockey World Cup is also usually pretty star studded, though some of the older guys often opt out. But all four of those events are massive around the world (in different areas) and if baseball had a true World Cup, I think it would gain prominence as well.

  32. ray on March 3rd, 2006 5:06 pm

    I’m enjoying it. I think this idea of the best of the best always playing will never work, I think money motivates more than “patrotism” — notice quotes. I think back when average salaries weren’t so overblown and guys were more into the my country thing, a thing like the WBC could have worked (better), but of course it would have been a joke as there would have been basically few teams in it. Anyway, I read somewhere that suggested the WBC be changed to November. I doubt that would have much of an effect either. There is just no easy solution except for the Bobby Valentine solution: the best teams play each other. In Asia they have the Konami cup (I think it’s called) where the champs of Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and China play each other for the title. I’d really prefer this idea where the U.S. champs get to play the other champs of other countries. For me, the best team playing against the best team is more interesting than he best players playing against the best players — Lotte vs. White Sox would have been great to see.

  33. ray on March 3rd, 2006 5:22 pm

    On a side note, I figured out a way to get WFB out of ST: slip a few Franklins to the U.S. manager to put WFB on the team. WFB out of ST gives others a chance to replace him. I know it’s too late but anyway, it’s just a dream for another universe.

  34. Mock on March 3rd, 2006 6:53 pm

    RE: 33

    Man, that’s a little harsh. It’s one thing not to care too much either way about who wins the WBC, but to actively campaign against the US by putting WFB on the team? Whew man, that could be grounds for a trip to Guantanamo under this regime.

    And when you say “slip a few Franklins” you don’t mean Ryan do you? Because unless the head of US Baseball is Pat Gillick’s evil twin I don’t think it’ll get you anywhere.

  35. ray on March 3rd, 2006 8:34 pm

    34, lol!

  36. J.L. on March 4th, 2006 12:56 am

    I love the idea of the WBC, but I utterly despised the fact that it’s played in Spring Training. You want to know why so many stars are pulling out of this thing? Because when some of those guys went to camp for some light tossing, they thought, “Wait–I’m supposed to play at 100% capacity in TWO WEEKS for the WBC? Screw that!” These guys are paid handsomely to play for the MLB teams, and I think many would be very adverse to jeopardize their seasons for this. Right now.

    I question for serious Selig and Co. take this thing. Do they look at it as another way to make a few extra bucks during Spring Training — when only a handful of people are usually tuning in to catch an M’s/Padres tilt over in Peoria — or do they really want it to succeed?

    If they want it to catch on right away, then they’re going to need to sacrifice some regular season revenue to do it. To do so, just take the qualifying rounds, expand it to 15-25 games, and move it into the winter. A lot of quality players are already in Winter Leagues anyway, so if they play WBC games in Florida instead, no big deal. We then have the Big Four (U.S., Japan, Dominican Republic and Cuba) and plus four others picked out from the likes of Mexico, Venezuela, Canada, Korea, China, Netherlands…..or whoever else is involved. I think we can live with that. With the eight teams, you then expand All-Star Weekend an extra week (All-Star Double Weekend?), and have the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals played back-to-back-to-back in the same city. You give the WBC extra prestige doing that, you get more players available who are also in mid-season condition, and all you really lose is 4-7 days every four years. Is it just me, or is this idea infinitely better than what we have now?

  37. zzyzx on March 4th, 2006 6:50 am

    J.L. – if players and teams have issues with playing a maximum of 8 games during a period of time where they would be playing games anyway, they sure as hell wouldn’t want to play 25 games when they should be resting.

    Quality players aren’t allowed to play in winter leagues the way they used to. It gets written into contracts and everything.

  38. darrylzero on March 4th, 2006 11:50 am

    #30-31, while this may be neither here nor there, when Bergkamp declared he wouldn’t play (because he refused to get on an airplane, not because of anything to do with Arsenal, as far as I know), I think he was still a lock to start on the Dutch team. As it turned out, it didn’t matter because they didn’t even make the tournament, but it’s not impossible the two events are related.

    However, the point that his example doesn’t really indicate the behavior of soccer stars when the World Cup rolls around stands, because Bergkamp is the clear outlier anyway. I think WBC has a long way to go (more than 10 years certainly) before it’s anything like the World Cup. But I don’t think we should assume that because some superstars sit it out the first time around that they would be likely to do so once it’s more established.

    The first time is going to be wacky. But you can bet if the when either the DR or Venezuela or the U.S. doesn’t win, there’s going to be some people from those countries who sat this one out that will think a lot more seriously about the decision next time around. Well, I think so anyway.

  39. J.L. on March 4th, 2006 12:00 pm

    That’s a very good point. However, since only the qualifying rounds would be played in the winter, I believe that the very best players do not necessarily have to participate. As of right now, even a collection of Double-A and Triple-A starts representing the Big Four (U.S., D.R., Japan and Cuba) can still qualify easily. Of course, 10 or 12 years down the road, that might be another matter. I would imagine that most players either (a.) currently play winter ball, or (b.) used to do so when they were still getting established. In any case, the tournament itself is paramount.

  40. J.L. on March 4th, 2006 12:00 pm

    (that was in repsonse to #37)

  41. zzyzx on March 5th, 2006 7:50 am

    JL – it’s kind of cheating though to qualify with one roster and then have a different one for the finals.

  42. 7468 on March 12th, 2013 10:14 pm

    If the players got paid more money to play in the WBC you would see the tune of the players and fans change and mysteriously the idea of players getting hurt or not being “eased” like children into the season would disappear.

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