Thursday, February 19, 2009

More on the Classic

I'm loving the World Baseball Classic. Mostly. It's gotten a little ridiculous with the amount of star players not representing their countries. Or representing another country, but that's a different story. I mean, this was all Bud's idea, wasn't it. Then he doesn't even allow his biggest stars to participate. I understand that their is an injury risk, but there is in spring training. If he's not going to take the classic seriously, how is the classic supposed to take itself serious.

As much of a fan as I am, I've always felt it wasn't being done properly. This will never supplant the World Series as the biggest baseball event in the world, but it is the biggest thing in international baseball, or should be. Joe Connor, for Mister Baseball agrees:

The year 2009 will prove to be a defining moment for international baseball. Soon, 16 countries will compete in the second-ever World Baseball Classic (WBC) while this summer, the 38th Baseball World Cup will be held throughout the continent, serving as a prelude to the October vote by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on whether to reinstate baseball for the 2016 Games. While one hopes the IOC will come to its senses, that’s a best case scenario and the worldwide baseball community must brace itself for a worse case scenario: never participating in the Olympics ever again.

It’s imperative that Major League Baseball (MLB), the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), the International Amateur Baseball Federation (IBAF) – and baseball fans across the world – maximize the exposure of this year’s events to demonstrate that the sport is indeed a global game with a long-term vision that highlights: 1. it has become all-inclusive, and 2. has an innovative growth strategy moving forward.
So is there a solution:

To that end, MLB, MLBPA and IBAF should start by announcing sometime during the 2009 WBC that the next event, in 2013, will be more all-inclusive. The WBC has been a 16-country, invitation-only professional-level event since inception, and while the majority of invitees are well-deserved, this concept has snubbed other countries in Europe and the Americas from even getting a chance to participate, most notably Nicaragua where baseball is the number one sport in that country.

I agreed with that from the beginning. It all seemed kind of thrown together in 2006, and all done at the last minute. I always wondered why just 16 teams, and the ones picked. The attitude seemed to be - lets do it and get it over with as soon as possible.

You can’t argue with the WBC invitations of the super powers of the sport such as the U.S., Japan, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Venezuela and Korea. And you also can’t really argue with the invitations of Taiwan, Panama and Puerto Rico either where baseball is either the No. 1 sport in these countries and/or has a tremendously rich tradition. The Netherlands, with its two Caribbean island hot beds of Aruba and Curacao, would also be hard not to invite. And although hockey and soccer are number-one sports respectively in Canada and Mexico, both are deserved of invitations given their long baseball history and contributions to the game.

Yeah, there are counties that kind of deserve automatic invitations. If they're a baseball country, they should be playing. Korea, Japan, & Taiwan should have to compete against each other for spots. They should be there. but what about other countries:

But inviting China, Australia, Italy and South Africa over a Nicaragua and Colombia just isn’t right. Sure, you don’t need to be a marketing major to understand why MLB has pumped millions in coaching and training into 1.3 billion strong China, trying to find the Yao Ming of baseball. And you have to admire Australia for producing 80 plus MLB Minor Leaguers despite having a population of just 20 million and when its best athletes choose cricket, Australian Rules Football, rugby, golf or tennis over baseball.

Mr. Connor has a solution for fixing these problems:

But there need to be some sort of qualification process. My suggestion would be for the three teams with the worst record in the 2009 WBC (I’m guessing China, Italy, South Africa, or either Australia, Taiwan or the Netherlands) would have to earn their place in a 2013 WBC. Why not have three quasi-continental qualifiers – one in the Americas; one in Europe; and the final one encompassing Africa, Asia and Oceania? The governing amateur bodies of each continent, in cooperation with MLB, MLBPA and IBAF, could determine the set-up of each qualifier, with six-to-eight of the historically top teams in each geographic region competing. The winner of each of these three tournaments would then land spots 14, 15 and 16 in a 2013 WBC. Assuming a March 2013 WBC, the qualifying tournaments could be held on each continent(s) sometime from late September to early November of 2012, enabling those players competing in pro leagues in Asia or U.S. Minor League or independent leagues to have a chance to go home and participate.

His reasoning:

The benefits of this idea ensure that multiple countries from multiple continents have at least an opportunity to land one of three spots in the WBC. And isn’t that the point of baseball’s global growth strategy – to grow the game in as many places as possible? What better way to do that then to motivate the “unsung countries” with at least a chance to earn a coveted WBC bid?

Think about the possibilities. Brazil, with a dozen players signed to MLB contracts (albeit, minor league ones), would have a chance to compete for one WBC bid against the likes of Nicaragua and Colombia in the Americas qualifier. No two countries deserve the right to compete in the WBC more than Nicaragua and Colombia and it’s an utter travesty they’ve been excluded in the invitation-only WBC up to this point. Nicaragua and Colombia boast winter leagues and each has a long, rich baseball history. Baseball is the most popular sport in Nicaragua, and the fans are almost as fanatical as the Cubans and Dominicans – trust me, I’ve been there, I know. Along Colombia’s Caribbean Sea Coast, no sport rivals baseball. The likes of Spain, Germany, France, Sweden and Britain, among others, would have an opportunity to compete for one separate WBC berth in a European qualifier. As for the Africa/Asia/Oceania qualifier, this leads me toward my second point made at the outset: getting innovative.

While that's a much better idea, I still disagree. Why have qualifiers at all? Why not an open tournament, open to all comers. Even if if the there is a play-in round, with the big boys getting a bye. 4 pools of 4 teams each, with the top 3 in each getting byes, and all the other countries holding a mini-tournament to determine the final teams. Works for me. I agree all the big boys should get in, but if you start excluding countries because of tradition or history, then we're doing a disservice to them. And seriously, what would be better for the game than for one of the non-traditional baseball countries to get in with the big boys, and maybe pull off an upset.

Anyhow, that's just my idea. There are plenty of other ways to do it. The main point is, it's not going to last the way it is. There need to be serious changes to it. To include the big stars playing, or it will fade into irrelevance. Bud has created this thing, and is now treating it as an afterthought. But remember, even if this thing doesn't work out, there is still the World Cup. Your choice, Bud. Make it work, or it goes away.

I know I'm going a bit heavy on the WBC today, but I think it's a great idea. I just don't think they're taking advantage of it and doing it properly. I'm a big advocate of international baseball, so you'll be hearing more.

The WBC will only be run every 4 years in the future, and in an off-year from the Olympics. It's done on purpose, to serve as a counter to the Olympic snub. In light of that, and the fact that it's only every 4 years, Bud has to do something to get the players involved. If the biggest start aren't playing, people will stay away. That's the entire Olympic issue. Why is it one here?

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