Thursday, March 19, 2009

The World Baseball Classic Must Be Stopped

The World Baseball Classic needs to be stopped. Like American Idol, what started as a fun, cutesy idea has quickly descended into an inevitable path towards career-damaging destruction. Sure, its fun to wear uniforms with your country’s flag on it, but spring training should prepare players for the upcoming season, not give them infinitely more chances for them to be handicapped in time for it. This past week, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia, the only two probably-going-to-be-productive Red Sox hitters, both succumbed to injuries during the (not at) all important WBC, and for what? Literally, no reason. The WBC ranks somewhere between Sunday afternoon bowling and the WNBA finals in terms of sports relevancy. Anybody who watched it probably didn’t mean to, because they were in a bar and ESPN Classic was only showing Bronx Is Burning reruns. So, why risk the health of players that matter for a competition that totally doesn’t?

The World Baseball Classic has a history for notoriously ruining the seasons of Sox players. Somehow, nobody’s sensed a pattern. In 2006 (I think…) Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched brilliantly for Japan but somehow ran out of steam somewhere in July for the Sox because oops, someone forgot that Japanese players are already only used to pitching a portion of a normal MLB season. Therefore, he was already guaranteed to run out of steam late-summer, but thanks to the WBC that timeframe was magically shifted to mid-summer. Mike Timlin was a solid veteran reliever who was clearly on the decline in 2007, who what better way to adequately prepare him for a season in which he will undoubtedly need to take things slow and easy to be effective? If you said have him exert a lot of energy way earlier in the year when it doesn’t at all matter, you’re on the nose my friend. His regular season consisted of several trips to the DL, and an ERA of about 8.

Now to have this happen to Youk and Pedroia is enraging in the fact that nobody could see this coming. Nobody stopped to say “woah guys, I don’t know – we’ve already got a pretty injured team. Maybe you ought to sit this one out so you can contribute to our already depleted lineup.” Nope. Instead they probably said “Yeah, Cowboy Up! Show those non-Patriotic bastards who’s boss!” as that damn “Proud to be an American…” song blasted through the clubhouse. It now occurs to me that probably-actually-37 David Ortiz also played in the WBC.

What baseball really should do is have each country represented by players that have no shot of making their respective teams out of camp. Sure, America wouldn’t do great, but I’d sleep much better knowing that the likes of Josh Bard, Chris Smith, or Lars Anderson were out there risking season-limiting injury. I think AA Trenton will recover.

If the WBC accomplished something – anything – I may be more forgiving. Say what you will about the All Star game determining homefield advantage in the World Series, but it does inject the game with a certain amount of stake and urgency. At least make it so whoever wins the WBC doesn’t have to watch Frank TV ads during their country’s playoff broadcasts. Or maybe the losers have to take on Tim McCarver as their permanent color-commentator. Or maybe just make it so the winning country does not have to participate in the WBC ever again. That I could get behind.

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