Mar. 9, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA: USA third baseman David Wright (5) celebrates with Joe Mauer (7) after hitting a grand slam home run in the fifth inning against Italy during the World Baseball Classic at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Why America Needs to Take the World Baseball Classic Seriously

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I, for one, love the WBC.

I enjoyed watching every game the US played and was just as upset by the losses to Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico as I would have been with the Giants losing a playoff game to the Dodgers. As a fan, these games meant a lot to me and I would have given anything for the Americans to have advanced farther. It truly pains me to see the two teams that knocked out the United States- Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic- playing in the championship game.

That being said, in the first three World Baseball Classics, the United States has been quite lax about their participation in this tournament and has deserved their quick exits each time. While the players that do show up have matched the intensity of the Asian, Latin, and even the Canadian players; there are still three major problems that need to be addressed. 1) The American fans are not supporting our players, 2) the best players are avoiding the tournament, and 3) the managers are treating the games like little league showdowns instead of playoff battles.

 

I think the easiest change to the tournament is the one that doesn’t need any rule change or governing body, just a better attitude. Just like Uncle Sam, I’m pointing my finger at the American fans and saying,” I want you to support our boys!”

If you have no interest in the WBC, that’s fine, but don’t root against it. If you’re a fan of it like me, then stand up and make yourself heard by the World. Too many “fans” cry that they don’t want MLB players in the event because they could get hurt or don’t care anyway. I’ll always listen to a valid point but if those are your arguments, I’d like you to keep them to yourself. Joe Mauer cared, David Wright cared, Adam Jones cared; you could see the pain and frustration on each of their faces when US lost and the unbridled joy when the Americans won.

As for the injury risk in playing in the WBC, it just doesn’t hold water. There has never been a season ending injury in the WBC and really players are much more likely to go down if they stay in spring training. For me the two low points of the WBC were in the losses to Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Despite the games being played in the United States, the few US fans who were chanting were drowned out. If you are an American going to these games and you stay silent, please do us all a favor and don’t show up at all.

As much as I blame the fans, I do have to wonder if they would have been louder if Andrew McCutchen, David Price, Mike Trout, and even Buster Posey had answered the call to represent the US of A. I understand that Kershaw, Sabathia, and Greinke didn’t want to pitch because of injury or Cain and Verlander because of their extra postseason starts.

Mar 2, 2013; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28) runs to first during the first inning against the Chicago Cubs at Scottsdale Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Any player; US or otherwise who has a legitimate injury concern or is trying to learn the ins and outs of a new team gets a pass from me. Still, couldn’t Buster or Prince Fielder have shown up to replace the injured Mark Teixeira at first? Wouldn’t our pitching have looked a lot scarier with Price and Cliff Lee fronting the rotation?

Maybe we wouldn’t have gone down like a lead balloon after the Wright injury if McCutchen and Ryan Zimmerman had suited up in red, white, and blue. For this tournament to truly get the respect it deserves in 201,7 we are going to need to see bigger name players step up and agree to play for their country. It’s a lot like basketball in the Olympics, we got complacent until we got embarrassed and then showed our true strength as a nation; here’s hoping for the next WBC, the US puts a baseball dream team on the field and we can bring home our first tournament trophy.

The final bone I have to pick in this unholy trinity is the inexcusable way the US managers are not managing to win. I know it’s going to be hard, but the MLB teams need to butt out and give the managers a chance to win. These games really do mean something and if that means that Shane Victorino has to ride the pine instead of taking a few ugly hacks, well boo-hoo.

Only one team is going to get to claim that trophy and it will never be the US if the manager keeps letting his relievers stay in to meet their pitch counts or benches one of his starters for the sake of letting some of his bench guys get some spring swings. If in the next WBC, the US wins their first two games, like Italy did this year, then great: punt the third one with these terrible strategies, but why the hell were inferior players populating the starting lineup in must win games?

I understand that MLB teams are worried about their investments in the WBC; I’d be willing to say the Mets might have a legitimate gripe if David Wright misses time in the regular season. That being said, I’d also like to ask any GM why it’s ok for a player to risk injury in spring training and not the WBC. MLB teams need to stay out of this tournament for it work because the USA managers can’t do their jobs in handcuffs.

 

Like I said to open my argument, I love the WBC. I think it can be as fun and exciting for baseball fans as the World Cup is for soccer fans…if it’s allowed to be. It can’t grow if the same three mistakes by the USA keep forcing it in a hole. Imagine where this event could have gone with a Japan-USA final in 2009 and now imagine how low it could sink with another lackluster showing by the home country in 2017. If we were allowed to really embrace our inner super villain and show the World our best team, US fans would get behind the event.

As Patton said, “Everybody loves a winner.” On the other side, if the Netherlands or Italy had a miracle on grass moment against a real team of the best players from the United States, it would hurt, but it would also grow baseball outside of the Americas and could in fact save the game we love.

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Tags: Detroit Tigers Los Angeles Angels Minnesota Twins New York Mets San Francisco Giants Tampa Bay Rays World Baseball Classic

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