The WBC is Making Baseball Fun Again
It’s kind of ironic isn’t it? Last off season, Bryce Harper went on his now famous rant and subsequent campaign to “make baseball fun again” but now, he has just missed out on the very event that accomplished that goal. Because make no mistake about it- the World Baseball Classic was a different brand of baseball.
It was intense. It was unapologetic. It was filled with passion and pride and celebrations, all of which are sorely lacking from Major League Baseball’s regular season. The World Baseball Classic felt like playoff baseball in March, which is exactly why some major American stars, such as Mike Trout and Noah Syndergaard, have expressed interest in playing in the 2021 tournament.
According to a report by Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times, Trout said that he will “probably do it” when the WBC returns in four years. Trout’s interest in participating in the tournament clearly comes from not only the ability to represent his country, but also the product on the field. The players who participated in the WBC took this event seriously and as a result, so did the viewing audience.
The most important thing of all, however? These players had fun (Sorry, Ian Kinsler).
Thankfully, the WBC lacked the sort of unspoken, self-policing ethics policy that the MLB regularly (and painfully) enforces. Most notably in the Latin American countries, the players participating in the WBC brought a welcomed enthusiasm to the games. The Puerto Rican team, which made its second straight championship appearance, was been particularly jubilant. And it’s no secret that this unbridled enthusiasm stems from the fact that the team was led by some of baseball’s youngest stars, including Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez, and Carlos Correa.
Overall, this year’s Classic was a massive success. From Israel’s surprisingly hot start with the Mensch on the Bench, to the Dominican Republic’s celebrations with Platano Power, the WBC was been an exciting deviation from the monotony we are typically accustomed to in Spring Training.
But with the championship having been won by the United States and the next WBC not taking place for four years, we are left to ask: what is the future of the tournament?
Despite the tournament’s success, it doesn’t have nearly the scope as an international event like the World Cup, which reels in millions of casual soccer fans by the droves. The WBC has failed to do that, as its viewing audience in the United States was comprised of mostly baseball diehards.
In the United States, the WBC has not reached the national scale that it would like to eventually achieve, but this is insignificant. The WBC should not be tested on its performance in the United States, though the American’s run to the championship game should help the tournament reach a larger audience. Rather, the WBC should be measured on its success internationally.
The purpose of the WBC is to grow the game across the globe. For Americans, it’s a fun break from the routine. For the rest of the world, it’s glory.
This is why teams such as the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico played with such intensity- because the WBC is truly important to them. Because even though Major League Baseball is undoubtedly the greatest league in the world, each nation participating the WBC wants to prove that they produce the best players.
Take the Japanese team for example, who lost in the semifinal to the United States on Tuesday night. Japan has reached the championship round in every edition of the WBC, and it was evident that their players were devastated following their loss to the US. Only one player on the Japanese roster, Norchika Aoki, currently plays in the Major Leagues. But still, Japan was able to contend with some of the most talented Major League players in the world. Until they couldn’t.
For the United States, the only way grow the popularity of the tournament, besides winning the thing, is to get its best players on their team. Although this year’s team is comprised of mostly stars, it is not even comparable to the best product the Americans are capable of putting on the field. After all, Tanner Roark and Marcus Stroman are the club’s two best pitchers.
Imagine if superstars such as Max Scherzer and the aforementioned Syndergaard decided to play in the WBC? How then, could anyone tune away?
Wednesday night’s victory over Puerto Rico should help attract its stars to participate in the tournament. The win clearly meant so much to the players, and in the post game comments made by team leaders such as Eric Hosmer and Marcus Stroman, it was evident that the team bonded over playing for their country.
This was not a World Cup victory. Nor was it an Olympic victory. But to the baseball community, winning the WBC is the equivalent.
The 2017 WBC does not appear to be a culmination. Instead, it looks more like the beginning of something great, a new tradition for the game. The 2021 WBC looks to be packed with even more passion, pride, and anticipation heading into the tournament. In the last few weeks, a message has been sent around the the baseball world that players should want to participate in the Classic.
In the midst of the United States’ championship celebration, Adam Jones was asked to comment on the importance of playing in the tournament.
“Sure beats the hell out of Spring Training!” he responded.
Maybe in 2021, Bryce Harper will agree.