The overall concept of the World Baseball Classic is intriguing. But despite the positives that accompany the global tournament, there are other factors that are both unavoidable and detrimental to its growth.
First, there is an inherent uneasiness that comes with a major leaguer leaving his big league ballclub in order to join his native country for the tourney.
ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark did his best back in January to debunk the WBC injury myth, pointing out that players who didn’t play in the WBC in 2009 were nearly twice as likely to spend time on the disabled list that April as players who played. Stark also noted that in only two of the past eight seasons has baseball started the season with less than 9 percent of active players on the disabled list, and those two seasons happened to be 2006 and 2009 — the years in which the WBC was played. Despite Stark’s smattering of facts, though, there are still rare occurrences like Mark Teixeira‘s injury, and those are enough to keep MLB general managers up at night.
Teixeira will miss eight to 10 weeks with a strained right wrist, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said on Wednesday. The first baseman suffered the injury while hitting off a tee before Team USA’s exhibition game on Tuesday, and the ailment is expected to keep him out of action through all of April and into May. Now, perhaps Teixeira would have somehow suffered the injury even if he had remained at Yankees camp instead of playing in the WBC, but the injury will only heighten the level of reluctance felt by those on the fence about participating in the WBC and those executives whose players are participating.
The injury risk of playing in the WBC might not actually be higher — as Stark proved — but the myth still exists, which is essentially the same in terms of a backlash. Most players’ regimens are different during a tournament year, and there will always be this notion that the altered spring played a role in whatever injuries arise. Teixeira’s injury might be a fluke occurrence, but it happened on the WBC’s watch, and that’s enough to increase the level of apprehension surrounding the tourney. In many ways, it’s similar to the Home Run Derby and the fear that participating in the midseason contest could potentially hinder a player’s second-half performance.
Cole Hamels‘ comments following his exhibition start for the Phillies against the Dominican Republic on Tuesday highlights even more concerns regarding the World Baseball Classic.
“It’s tough,” Hamels told reporters after getting lit up by the D.R. “I know my allegiance is to the Phillies and this organization winning the World Series. I think winning the World Series is a little bit more important than whatever trophy they give for the World Baseball Classic. The World Series is ultimately the goal that I would go for no matter what they are throwing out there for the champions of the World Baseball Classic.”
You can bet that Hamels isn’t alone in this way of thinking. Winning the World Series has and always will be the ultimate team goal for a major leaguer, as it’s the highest honor that can be obtained within their day-to-day workflow. It’s the carrot on the end of the stick.
A major leaguer prepares hard before every game in an effort to eventually win a World Series, and it’s ultimately a goal that holds financial benefits, especially to those who elevate their game on MLB’s big stage. Sure, winning the World Baseball Classic is a nice feat, but as Hamels points out, it’s simply not the highest honor for those who also play for a Major League Baseball franchise. And when you consider that, it’s clear that the WBC doesn’t give us the best of the best, both in terms of participants and in terms of effort.
Hamels also noted after Tuesday’s start that he doesn’t yet have competitive level stuff. That seems quite obvious, as it’s still early in spring training, but it also shows that the actual competitiveness of the WBC is bound to be tempered a bit because players simply aren’t in midseason form. Much has been made about the timing of the WBC, but there really isn’t a good time in relation a major league season, and we’re thus stuck going in circles when it comes to figuring out when is most appropriate.
Add all of this up and — as is often the case when it comes to international competitions — the whole thing seems rather convoluted. There is so much parity in the world when it comes to baseball, but given the varying factors and concerns, staging a perfect event that determines a hands-down world champion seems impossible.
It’s unfortunate, but the WBC — understandably — isn’t a top priority for most baseball people. We should stop hoping that it will someday become such.
Photos via Flickr/Keith Allison