Friday, February 10, 2006

Fixing The Classic

Rob mentioned the World Baseball Classic, or WBC (for folks who aren’t boxing aficionados). I’ve gone back and forth on how I feel about this event, and I’ve come to what I feel is a rational solution for all parties.

Initially, without having delved too deeply into the matter, I agreed with my cohort’s comment that the WBC was something contrived. Perhaps because Bud Selig was involved with its promotion (I swear, he could make a proclamation against the Holocaust and instinctively, we’d defend the Nazis), or perhaps because using our professionals in other international competitions has waned rather than piqued my interest, I just couldn’t get enthused. Upon further reflection, however, I began to see the merit.

First of all, what with that pinnacle of responsibility the IOC clipping baseball from the Olympic Games for the foreseeable future, there is actually a need for a World Cup of baseball. Until baseball edges out handball, pong, and the other mainstays (not rugby, of course) and wedges its way back into the Games, the WBC will have to suffice.

Additionally, as Major League Baseball’s international quotient becomes more and more substantial, a competition broken down by country of origin (some "origins" more distant than others, Signore Piazza) becomes increasingly intriguing. While plenty of red-blooded, xenophobic middle Americans who are tired of pro ballplayers waving their flags all over the U.S. of A. just want to see the American club squash the other countries and re-assert its dominance in the sport our forefathers invented, there is actually some value to such games. We’ll get a geography lesson and a better sense of many players’ homelands, particularly for guys we categorically label "Hispanics" but who are in actuality Dominicans, Venezuelans, Puerto Ricans, and Panamanians, among others. We’ll get to bear witness to a legion of ballplayers we automatically associate with greed, selfishness, and a skewed economic system simply play baseball for their country. Okay, it’s a far cry from true "patriotism," but there’s more altruism and pure passion for the sport in a handful of WBC contests than in 162 regular season games. And finally, we’ll just get to see something out of the ordinary. A jumbled pile of new teammates, rosters, schedules, venues, and outcomes.

If it’s well-organized, well-represented, and well-scheduled, this could be even better than the Olympics, since summer games conflict with the MLB season. Ay, there’s the rub. The scheduling – right in the middle of spring training – could make this the disaster it's being depicted as in the media. As Rob pointed out, any injury that occurs in the WBC will turn the fans against the event. Not only that – a WBC player who tires down the stretch in September will also be cause for resentment. It’s a no-win situation for the players; either they aren’t in regular season shape and risk torn hammies and shoulders, or they are and risk fatigue toward the end of seven months of play, travel, and spotlights. There’s no good time to schedule this tournament, but spring training, when clubs are figuring out who will and won’t be part of their season, is clearly not the time.

So what’s the answer? Fear not, lads and lasses, Dr. Lester has the panacea for your World Baseball Classic jones, and it comes in a 1’x3’ box for about $30 or $40. Yes, in lieu of actually trotting out each country’s best players – or not, since they’re realizing the risk and fleeing like rats from a sinking ship lately – and jeopardizing their 2006 futures for an exhibition, we’ll ensure the safety of the individuals while accurately determining which country sports the finest baseballers in all the land.

That’s right. Rob Russell and I are going to sit down with Strat-o-matic Baseball, each of the 2004 players, a legal pad, and two cases of beer. We’ll divvy up the squads by nationality and compile teams to represent some fair competition. (I don’t think that the Netherlands, for example, can compete on its own, so maybe we pool a few nations together based on proximity, language similarities, and peaceful co-existence throughout history.) Then we’ll script lineups, manage some games, and declare a winner. But let’s face it, compared to the way it’s actually going to go down, everyone will be a winner with our solution.

We’ll let you know how it goes.

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