Good and Bad for WBC
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 23, 2006

THE INAUGURAL showing of Bud Seligís baby, the World Baseball Classic, got a fairly warm reception from the American sporting public, but the reaction of sportswriters covering the event was often off the charts.

I saw references to ďthe real World SeriesĒ and comments that ďthe World Series will never be the same again.Ē

Get a grip, fellas.

The reality is that what interest there was among the American public, with the exception of Latinos in this country who were wildly enthusiastic, came mostly because of the timing of the event.

Selig planned well, putting the event in a relatively dead spot in the sports calendar. The Super Bowl was past and the NCAA tournament and NBA playoffs were in the future. There were no NFL games, no regular baseball games, not even a major golf or tennis tournament.

The total attendance for the 39-game tournament was 737,112, slightly under 19,000 a game, an average which would be in the lower half for major league teams in the regular season. The championship game between Japan and Cuba drew 42,696, a healthy crowd but less than could be expected for a big game during the regular baseball season.

The ESPN ratings were described as roughly double what spring exhibition games produce.

Those are not numbers which are going to run the World Series out of town.

The timing of the event made it difficult to bill this as a true world championship competition because the teams and players were at different stages of readiness. I seriously doubt that the Cuban team is the best in the Caribbean, for instance, but the Cubans had been playing regularly and their players had been together for some time, so they wound up in the tournament championship game. Under equal playing conditions, I would expect that the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Venezuela teams would all be superior.

Except for the Latino players who had been playing winter ball, the major leaguers in the tournament were all just starting their preparation for the regular major league season. That was especially true of pitchers, who had to be limited in the number of pitches they threw. That was fine for relievers, who always throw a limited number, but it curtailed the effect starters could have on a game.

The other problem I had with the event was that it often interfered with players getting ready for the regular season, which should be the focus for them. One example: Pedro Feliz. This is a very important year for Feliz, who is finally being given a chance to be the regular at his best position, third base, but he fell behind because he played so little in the WBC.

On the positive side, it appears to have been a good experience for most players. Even the American players, most of whom were skeptical going in, seemed to enjoy it.

But, letís look at it for what it was: a show. It was not a meaningful test of which country plays the best baseball, nor even
the best baseball available. It was just a show.

THE COMPETITION is probably worth keeping, though I donít think itís necessary to have it more often than every four years, as has been suggested. Also, some changes are in order.

The time of the event should be changed to November, starting the week after the World Series.

If it were played at that time, it would be close enough to the end of the regular major league season that players would still be in playing shape. Teams could be named before the end of the season, so those players on teams which werenít in the postseason could hold their own workouts to keep sharp.

That would create a level playing field in the tournament itself, and it would not interfere with spring training. The games would be better, regular competition instead of glorified exhibition games, which the games this year really were.

The other change Iíd make would be in the composition of teams. Instead of having teams represent each country, Iíd go to area teams. There could be one North American team, for instance, the U. S. and Canada, another representing the countries rimming the Caribbean, another with Asian teams, which means Japan and Korea. The fourth team could be a problem because baseball trails soccer in most of the word, even in most of South America. We saw how pathetic the South African team was this year. Maybe the fourth team would be the rest of the world. Maybe it would be necessary to split up either the North American or Caribbean teams.

Combining countries into one team would bring together people who have natural animosity; Japan and Korea are probably the best/worst example. But because baseball is really such an individual game, teammates donít have to like each other. If Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent could co-exists in the Giants clubhouse, Japanese and Korean players should be able to get along for one brief tournament.

Under my plan, the tournament would be much tidier, with two three-of-five preliminary series and a best-of-seven final series.

The other question would be location. Interest is highest in the Caribbean countries and the weather is better at that time of year, but the American television market probably makes it more sensible to have the final week played in the southernmost U. S. cities. Miami is a possibility, especially with its large Cuban population, but the stadium is a bad one. San Diego, Anaheim and Los Angeles would probably be better choices. Perhaps the two earlier series could be played in the Caribbean.

OH, AND there would be one other change Iíd make:

Bob Davidson would not be invited.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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