Adam Jones‘ robbery of Manny Machado‘s would-be home run and Machado’s respectful salute to his Baltimore Orioles teammate will be the highlight of the World Baseball Classic. But there have been other indelible moments. Such as Javier Baez‘s no-look tag, as he pointed at teammate Yadier Molina. Or Machado’s seemingly daily series of web gems.
Or Nelson Cruz‘s home runs. Or the intimidating power of Wladimir Balentien. Giancarlo Stanton denting Petco Park. The last outs in the surprising wins for Team Israel. The homeland pride spilling out of the players and the fans in hugs and shouts and smiles. And if you want to go full circle, Jones’ hometown home run.
We wouldn’t remember any of these plays if they happened in plain old exhibition games, a reality that should inform about the potential that the WBC carries and inspire an industry-wide conversation. The time has come for all sides to go all-in on the WBC or pack it in, because unless everybody wholly embraces the event — from the players to the union to Major League Baseball — it’s never going to become what it could and should be: an annual celebration of the sport that draws worldwide attention.
As it stands, there are just too many folks who are just half-in. Every four years, a primary WBC storyline is which stars are skipping the event, mostly for the U.S. team. There is perpetual conversation about how MLB needs to better market its stars, but in this case, some of the biggest stars are declining the opportunity to participate.
Some of the teams cope with the WBC passive-aggressively, sending mixed messages to some players that they aren’t necessarily wild about their participation, with club staffers stewing about how their best players are in somebody else’s camps. Some players believe that Major League Baseball needs to step up its commitment to give the participants the necessary support they have grown to expect during the regular season and postseason.
“It’s like they’re running a high school baseball tournament, instead of something special,” one player said.
So it’s time for everybody involved to decide if they’re going to ante up with the World Baseball Classic and forcefully construct something lasting. And if that’s not going to happen, if there’s not going to be a full commitment, it’s better to fold the event.
If the players’ association wants to create the best possible product, with the players benefiting financially, there needs to be more leadership and a change in the culture. The players are full partners with MLB in the event, taking one-third of the revenue; MLB gets one-third, and the last third goes to the World Baseball Softball Confederation and the federations involved.
If a player is coming back from an injury, hey, it makes sense that he would sit out the WBC. Max Scherzer has been fighting a ring finger problem and he hasn’t been fit to participate, but a lot of stars have chosen to simply sit out — and the event would be better if they participated. If the WBC evolved from mediocre to something really good and lasting, all of the players would benefit.
It’s as if the union agreed to a tug of war and some of the biggest, strongest guys walked away from the rope.
Major League Baseball needs to listen to what the players are saying about improvements in the event — how families are handled, transportation, medical treatment, security. Players who leave their respective teams have to believe that MLB will make arrangements on the par with what happens in the postseason. If a player is asked to participate and wants to participate, he should be shepherded all the way through insurance issues, which didn’t happen universally. The start times need to be more television-friendly, so that an extraordinary play like that by Jones is seen by more than a small handful of fans.
And if the WBC is to continue and progress, the 30 MLB teams should embrace the competition. When a player is picked, the teams should promote that the way they do All-Star selections in July, and treat it as an honor, rather than a nuisance. There is injury concern, of course, for all teams.
Maybe the teams have too much at stake, too much invested in the players to ever be wholly comfortable with the WBC; and if that’s the case, well, then end it. But if the WBC is going to move forward, then the teams need to buy in.
Because it could be great and could be used to fuel interest in the sport around the globe, much in the same way that hockey is helped by international competition. And the WBC could inject new life into the All-Star week events.
The bulk of the WBC could be played in spring training annually, with the semifinals and championship games becoming part of All-Star week in July. On Monday, the Home Run Derby. On Tuesday, the WBC semifinals. The All-Star Game could be played on Wednesday, with the managers focusing on player participation, leading up to the WBC final on Thursday. Then the sport takes a three-day weekend for rest. The players could get more rest in midseason, something the union has requested. The sport would command the world stage, in what is generally a sleepy sports week, and checks could be cashed by all sides.
The players are in midseason condition at the All-Star break, and the WBC semifinals and finals every July would presumably be at least as compelling as what we’ve seen in the event this spring, from Jones to Machado to Stanton. If all sides double down and the history and the rivalries between the countries deepen year to year, the players and MLB could shape something that lasts.