I’ve become a big fan of the World Baseball Classic (WBC).
I know, I know…I was just like you…once. It’s a meaningless tournament that risks our best players in an ill-timed event…blah, blah, blah. But after watching team USA pull together and yank out a comeback victory against Puerto Rico…I’m a fan.
It really started a bit before that game, to be honest. I get a kick out of watching teams like Japan and their disciplined respect for the game…or Korea and their pursuit to finally claim a proud spot in the Asian baseball culture…and especially Cuba where hot and fiery personalities put themselves on display as catchers and pitchers squabble over who has the final say in pitch selection.
It’s great! I love it…and I think the tournament is worth while…with a few changes. The WBC clearly has a lot of work on their hands to tweak and fine-tune this tournament…but for now, it’s exciting. If you really stop and think about it…who wouldn’t love to watch a team of All-Star worthy players take on the world in meaningful games?!
And then it got me thinking…isn’t the purest purpose of all this international fanfare to grow the game in other parts of the world? And why do that? Well…as many would suggest…in the hopes of someday having a true “World” Series.
But would that really work? Let’s explore…
First, the concept of a true World Series would mean teams from all over the world would be able to compete with one another for the title. Let me be clear about this…we do NOT mean a national All-Star team. The current team Japan, for example…forget it. We’re not talking about that roster…we’re talking about a single team (like, say, the equivalent of the Red Sox) with all it’s deficiencies and lineup holes.
That brings up another question…intermingled leagues or conference championship style? The intermingled league approach is probably what most typical fans think of when they hear about the possibility of regular international competition…but it’s simply not possible. To intermingle the teams/leagues between Japan and the USA, for instance, would be disastrous. Long flight times, extended down-time between games, and jet-lag would all be significant issues. It just wouldn’t work.
But the conference champion approach? That could work. Imagine a world where baseball is played all over the world…Australia, South America, China, Europe, and America. Then, split the globe into four Baseball Regions and hold a playoff system to determine a regional champion…America, Canada, and Mexico would fight it out…the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, etc. would play one another…Korea, Japan, and China would face off…and, you know, anyone in and around Australia? Hey…it’s not a perfect system…just bear with me.
So…those four regions duke it out and settle on a single team to represent them in a semifinal/finals tournament. But where would they play the games?
Let’s assume for a moment that we could find a central location with year-round baseball weather that would NOT participate in one of the four regions (part of this is Science Fiction, people). Why is such a location necessary? Because flying back and forth from region to region in the middle of a series is not really an option…jet-lag, travel time, etc. And playing it in one of the four regions would give incredible home-field advantage to one team.
(Note: I suppose it would be possible for two teams to fly to a neutral region – like North America vs. Asia would play in Australia – but that just seems too complicated…and still wouldn’t solve the problem of where to play the final series.)
Of course, if you play in a non-baseball region, you have another very simple problem…facilities. If they don’t play much baseball, they won’t have a sizable, professional level field/stadium for the tournament. How do we solve that? Simple…we build an International Baseball Association (IBA…I made that up) Village complete with lodging for four teams and a full-size, Major League quality stadium funded by shared profits from all of the professional divisions across the four baseball regions.
And then you hold a tournament.
All four teams would fly into the area, stay at the village, and then play a 5-game series formatted semifinal round. The winners of the round would then play a single 7-game series to determine the true international champion.
Could be fun…right? Of course…there are a few problems…
Assuming you hold the tournament after the regular baseball season in America, you’re adding up to a month onto an already lengthy and tiring season for MLB players. At some point, health, wear and tear, and just plain exhaustion become a factor…and then injuries. So…do you cut the season down in MLB? Not likely…you cut the season down, you cut into MLB profits. Not a good idea when you’re already asking MLB to fund an international competition. So…we have a scheduling problem.
We also have a competition problem.
A team from America will play 162 games in a season plus playoff games and Spring Training. But there is no way a Central American team plays that many games. I just don’t see how those countries could support a season and league that large and long. But let’s say they could play half of those games…you’re still asking a team playing more than 162 games to match up against a team playing 81. That’s just not fair. So…there’s a competition problem.
We could go on…but none of this addresses what I think is the biggest problem and obstacle to ever having an international champion.
Think about it…players like Dice-K, Beltran, Ichiro, Delgado, Pujols, A-Rod, Yadier Molina, etc. are all from other countries. If those countries were able to develop comparable leagues to our own, the MLB talent pool would drop significantly. Sure, those countries are not likely to pay anywhere near our salaries (except maybe Japan), but there are considerations such as national pride and governmental issues (such as trying to leave Cuba or China) that would make it very difficult for many of those players to leave their native country to play in/for America in an internationally-focused league. Make no mistake…this would not be the WBC…players would NOT be allowed to leave their team and represent their country. They would be required to play against it.
In other words, if MLB truly wants to create and develop an international competition, they better be prepared to sacrifice a significant portion of their most talented players to do it…including American born players lured to rich and dedicated countries like Japan.
And that is where I think MLB is not willing to make the necessary sacrifice. It’s all well and good to preach “international development!”…until you have to give up significant assets to make it happen.
Anyway…that’s just my random thought-ramblings on international competition…the result of allowing myself to go off on a tangent for a few minutes.
Okay…that’s all for now…carry on…