The World Baseball Classic is a sham

On March 6, baseball will once again embark on its annual failed attempt to create a worldwide tournament for the sport. Unlike the excitement generated by Olympic events, such as the basketball tournament, the World Baseball Classic has always been a bit of a drag. In less than two months, 10 Yankees will suit up for their respective countries, the most prominent being Dellin Betances, Didi Gregorius, Tyler Clippard, and Luis Severino. The risk is simply not worth the reward. Unlike the Olympic games, which invoke a unique sense of patriotism, the WBC has consistently failed to capture worldwide attention. The probability of injury, as the Yankees came to learn the hard way in 2013 at Mark Teixeira's expense, in conjunction with a genuine disinterest displayed by the American public in the event, makes the WBC unworthy of continuance.

 

Last week, I put a brief non-scientific poll on the BBB Twitter page asking our followers for their opinions of the WBC. Out of a sample size of 250, the results were as follows:



According to this poll, 62% of respondents are either indifferent or unexcited about the WBC. Again, there is no way of knowing if the poll is representative of the public at large, but I thought it would be a fun way to gauge the interest of our followers in the upcoming event.

My primary objection to the World Baseball Classic is the risk that teams are undergoing in order to allow their players to have the honor of playing for their respective countries. Major leaguers are under contract with their teams. The obligation a player has to his team must be controlling at all times. As former Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira was preparing for the 2013 WBC, he suffered what would turn out to be a devastating injury. Teixeira's sprained wrist tendon would haunt him for the duration of the season. Due to a number of prolonged DL stints, Teixeira ended up playing in only 15 games the entire season. This case should be a telltale sign for all teams that allow their players to participate in this tournament.

In 2017, ten Yankees will be playing for their respective countries. Dellin Betances and Luis Severino will be representing the Dominican Republic, Didi Gregorius will be playing for the Netherlands, Richard Bleier for Israel, Tommy Layne for Italy, Titi Polo and Donavon Solano for Colombia, Kellin Deglin for Canada, Gio Gallegos for Mexico, and Tyler Clippard will be suiting up for the United States. Of the ten, the Yankees are counting on four-- Betances, Severino, Clippard, and Gregorius-- to be integral parts of the roster heading into 2017. An injury to even one of these four players could upend the Yankees hopes of competing for a playoff spot. Is this a practical risk worth taking? Absolutely not.

Though the risk/reward argument is painfully obvious to any casual observer, we also need to examine the WBC as an event. Since many players, like the Yankees own Gary Sanchez, ultimately opt to not represent their native countries in the tournament, due to fear of injury, the players who end up playing are not necessarily the best any particular country has to offer. Unlike the Olympic basketball tournament, where players proudly enlist to bring home a gold medal, many major leaguers aren't eager to jeopardize their health and future earning potential. Though there may be more high profile names participating this year than in recent years, that does not minimize the risk at hand. The tournament is flawed. This year a number of big name players have already committed to participating so that theoretically should lead to a more exciting tournament than usual; however, we have to wonder whether these players will be giving it their all due to the inherent risk they are undertaking.

To address a more mundane point, the "World" Baseball Classic does not encompass the entire world, nor does it generate interest worldwide. With the exception of some Asian (Japan, South Korea, parts of China) and many Latin American (Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico, just to name a few) countries, the tournament isn't too popular around the world. Many Americans at home, including myself, are disinterested for the reasons I outlined above. Simply put, the WBC is good for baseball internationally, but has no impact at the domestic level. It's nothing more than a way for MLB to expand operations, and therefore profits, in countries that produce talented ballplayers.

The WBC is a deeply flawed tournament. Obviously, Olympic baseball cannot rival the excitement of other Olympic sports, such as basketball, because baseball season coincides with the timing of the summer Olympics, thus preventing top stars from playing. That said, the WBC is not very exciting, and poses a risk of injury to top flight players. Such a risk often deters their participation. Hopefully, this year is different. Maybe the presence of more top players than usual will add an exciting dynamic to the tournament that has been absent since its inaugural year. The tournament is clearly more important to other countries than it is to the United States, but if that can change, maybe it will be worthwhile to play after all.

Article by Steven Eareckson

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