The good ol’ United States of America toppled Puerto Rico (which is kind of American but not really) 8-0 on Wednesday night to win its first World Baseball Classic. As a sports fan and lover of this fine country, that made me happy, but is it really something worth getting worked up about?
At first glance, the WBC is like the World Cup, but for baseball instead of soccer. It’s just that, there’s not nearly as much history in the WBC as there is in the soccer version, at least not yet. What it really compares to is the Olympics for basketball. The US has the best players, and even a bit shorthanded, the Americans can still find a way to win, apparently.
There have only been for World Baseball Classics, with Japan winning the first two, in 2006 and 2009, before the Dominican Republic won in 2013.
The thing is, to common sports fans, I don’t think that fans are going to be supremely interested unless THE BIGGEST STARS in the game are there. The Olympic basketball team is the same way. It’s not going to be the same if LeBron James and Steph Curry aren’t on the team. It’s just not. The rosters for the respective teams approached that level, but there were still a good number of stars that stayed home.
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) March 23, 2017
Yes, of course, those are pretty impressive lineups, but considering that the Americans could have trotted out Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, too? Or had Clayton Kershaw or Chris Sale on the mound? The teams are already incredibly impressive, sure, but couldn’t they be just a bit better?
Here’s a list that the Los Angeles Daily News put together of those skipping WBC 4:
Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager, Madison Bumgarner, Max Scherzer, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Mookie Betts and Josh Donaldson.
Also: Kyle Hendricks, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta, Noah Syndergaard, Bryce Harper, Jon Lester and Rick Porcello.
In which I marvel at the almost sneaky greatness of the US WBC roster. https://t.co/Lheg29UwW2
— Grant Brisbee (@mccoveychron) March 21, 2017
Yes the team was good, and clearly good enough to win the tournament, so should it matter that not ALL of the stars were there? Well, kind of. You can’t fault the players for sitting out. It’s not what pays their bills. Here’s Grant Brisbee again:
There is absolutely no way to make players squeeze an extra month of hyper-competitive baseball in if they don’t want to. They know what’s best for their careers, their psyches, their bodies. They’re cogs in a billion-dollar industry that makes them millions of dollars, and the idea of interrupting their fine-tuned routine to play for national pride appeals to some more than others. That’s how it’s always going to be, and that’s fine.
Matt Calkins from the Seattle Times addresses the issue too, adding a quote from Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard in which he denied having any regrets not playing in the WBC. How come? “Because I’m a Met,” Syndergaard said. “Ain’t nobody make it to the Hall of Fame and win the World Series playing in the WBC.”
Check this out:
C: Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy
1B: Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo
2B: Ian Kinsler, Dee Gordon, Ben Zobrist
SS: Corey Seager, Brandon Crawford, Addison Russell
3B: Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado, Josh Donaldson
OF: Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen, Mookie Betts
SP: Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard, Corey Kluber
RP: Zach Britton, Wade Davis, Andrew Miller, Cody Allen
More from Calkins:
Who you won’t see is Angels outfielder Mike Trout, the best player of the century. Who you won’t see is Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of the century.
Reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant won’t be there, nor will 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson or 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper. And then there’s the pitching staff — which won’t include Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, Noah Syndergaard, Madison Bumgarner or anyone else among MLB Network’s top 100 players in baseball.
I don’t blame pitchers for being skeptical of joining. The timing of the event isn’t ideal, but there might not be a two-week stretch that is ideal. Baseball players, especially pitchers, are creatures of habit.
A bulk of the participants of the WBC would usually be somewhere else right now, getting a handful of low-pressure at-bats or innings, working on different things and fine-tuning their mechanics. It’s only logical that they wouldn’t want to play as if it were the end of October, and it’s supremely logical that they wouldn’t want to.
The attitude for guys representing other countries seems to be a little different. Per Phil Rogers, at MLB.com:
You get zero complaints from Dominican players about the event being held in the middle of Spring Training. If anything, they embrace the chance to jumpstart their seasons by traveling the world with many of their best friends in baseball.
“I like to get away from Spring Training for a little bit,” Cano said. “But it’s always fun to come and represent your country. … We love our country and we would love to do it, no matter when they [hold] it.”
I don’t fault anyone for skipping the WBC, but I still would have liked to see them there. It’s a bit of a no-win situation, but it appeared that all parties involved made the most of what they could.