Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The World Baseball Classic

Japan repeats as WBC Champions with a two run single by Ichiro in the 10th inning and the second World Baseball Classic is in the book.

The US certainly had a better (or perhaps we should say further) run in this installment, and lost in the semi-final to the Country that ended up winning the whole thing, but clearly there are still problems with what could be something that is very special.

A lot of the talk about the WBC these last couple days leading up to the championship hasn't been about Japan and South Korea and who had the better chance to win it, but more about the reasons that Americans didn't seem to be as interested in the WBC as the rest of the world and why the US team wasn't able to dominate.

There were lots of complaints (especially after the semi-final loss to Japan) about the manager, Davy Johnson. People complained about how he left Roy Oswalt in too long as he got shelled for 5 runs in the 4th inning effectively ending the US's chances. There were complaints about Evan Longoria pinch hitting as the tying runner after Mark DeRosa's (DeRo!!!!!) two run triple brought the US back to within 2. Critics felt that since Japan had no left handers in the bullpen Johnson should have sent up Shane Victorino to bat as a left hander. Longoria struck out and Victorino came in in his place to play center field in the bottom half of the inning so the critics pointed out what a useless waste Longoria's at bat was. These are legitimate concerns if this were in the regular season, but what has to be remembered (and it pains me to say it, but Joe Morgan did make some of these points during the game) is that for these US players it is Spring Training and they all are on a regiment to get ready for the season, ready for their jobs and livelihood.

The Astros would have been pissed if Roy Oswalt didn't get in at least 60-65 pitches regardless of what the Japanese batters were doing off of him. The Rays would have been angry if they sent off Evan Longoria to the WBC causing him to miss at least 3 days of camp and then he didn't even get one at bat. (Longoria joined the team for the semi-final as an injury replacement). The other countries don't mind as much if they piss of the MLB teams. Venezuela for instance told the Texas Rangers that Max Ramirez would be getting a majority of the time for them behind the plate (work that he needs as he hopes to win the backup catcher job for the Rangers). Instead, Ramirez saw very little playing time in the WBC and the Rangers were upset. But there isn't much that they can do against Venezuela. USA on the other hand is a lot more likely to feel the teams wrath and be disposed to pay attention to their demands.

Davy Johnson was effectivaly managing the US team as if it were a spring training club. He had to get everyone a specific amount of work and keep the major league teams happy. I'm sure that it wasn't an easy line to walk, making sure everyone got their work and trying to win the World Baseball Classic.

As long as this is the attitude that the major league clubs (and make no mistake, the majority of the players as well) USA will be hard pressed to compete with many of the other countries who not only have a lot of major league talent as well, but also are far more committed to winning the WBC.

Personally, I greatly enjoyed the WBC, but I acknowledge that there are a lot of problems with it as currently constructed. The timing is horrible as many players are not in a position to be able to compete at a high level, that is what this time is generally for to prepare them so that they are ready to compete when the season begins. Derrick Lee complained at the pressure put on players to get them to participate. The people behind USA pretty much smeared Lee for not joining the team as an injury replacement when he was currently not even able to play for the Cubs due to an injury.

I believe the WBC could be an awesome event, but some problems need to be worked out first. They have four years in which to perfect it before we try it all again.

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