With Opening Day arriving, many baseball fans are waking up from their offseason hibernation raring to go. Whether it’s Cubs fans looking to turn their ‘one World Series per century’ luck around, or Yankees fans feeling hopeful that last season’s big moves can put them back on top, the 2017 baseball season, is sure to be a good one and not without influence from the World Baseball Classic.
The World Baseball Classic is an international baseball tournament which is modeled after the FIFA World Cup being that it’s held every three years and features professional players from around the world representing their home country. Created in 2005 after the removal of baseball from the Olympics, it was intended to be “our great vehicle to internationalize the sport,” according to Bud Selig, MLB commissioner and creator of the WBC.
Since it’s creation, the WBC has only had four installments, three of which not won by the USA. With baseball viewership at an all time low prior to the 2016 playoffs, it’s fair to say that Selig’s mission wasn’t close to being completed. Japan claimed the first two wins, Dominican Republic the third, and most recently USA took home the gold in the 2017 Classic.
A new tournament in the offseason seems like the perfect opportunity to push the ‘make baseball great again,’ campaign that started in early 2015 by many major league players. Clearly, the tournament comes with conflict though.
The major unavoidable obstacle of the series that remains is the hesitancy by major league players to participate in the tournament because they’d run the risk of injury right before their season starts.
Fans witnessed this firsthand this year, as Didi Gregorius, shortstop for the New York Yankees has been put on the disabled list for at least the first month of the MLB season. He strained his shoulder during a WBC game in which he represented the Netherlands. He was one of a handful of players to compete and come out injured.
The WBC is unique to international sports tournaments because many baseball players decline the opportunity to represent their countries like so many other athletes see as a huge honor.
Former owner of the Yankees, George Steinbrenner openly opposed the WBC. A longtime controversial owner because of his spending habits and strict treatment of players, Steinbrenner frowned upon his players participating in the WBC due to missing out on spring training games and fear of injury before the start of the season.
The other obstacle is that American baseball fans just really don’t care about the World Baseball Classic. Never coming closer than fourth place until this year, the tournament was almost never mentioned and again proves Selig’s failed antics.
After the 2016 Olympics, it was announced that baseball and softball, among other sports, would be added back to the Olympic roster beginning in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, oddly enough in the USA’s main opponent in the sports.
This has helped spark up interest in the sport among younger people, whose average age of a fan is 53 according to ESPN and gives hope to the ‘make baseball great again’ movement.
The current state of the World Baseball Classic in America is essentially a mess, and takes a backseat to the MLB and the other major sports despite it’s potential. To get on the train of making baseball important to a young audience again, I think an overhaul and rebranding of the tournament needs to happen. If the MLB, player’s union, and owners don’t take it seriously, the fans aren’t going to either.
This paired with some major changes to the strike zone and intentional walk rule are sure to make this season seem like a fresher game but if Bud Selig had anything to do with it, I’m willing to bet it will only lead to further downfall.