Everyone tries to make the World Baseball Classic something more than what it is. It was originally brought about and thought out as a concept when baseball was abandoned as an Olympic sport. It is coming back as an Olympic sport in 2020 and the World Baseball Classic just wrapped up last week with the United States beating Puerto Rico in the championship game at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles. I would like to tell you that I cared, but I really didn’t. I do enjoy the Olympics, both the Winter and Summer games. I do enjoy the FIFA World Cup when that rolls around every four years and I couldn’t tell you the difference between Manchester City and Manchester United. For soccer, I cheer, like most, for team USA. You get a sense of pride rooting for your country because the event has the ability to take on a life of its own. It’s the crowds. It’s the chants. It’s the atmosphere. The World Cup is one of those events where the significance for the fans is on the same level as the players. The best soccer players in the world want to play in the event because of the significant meaning the World Cup has. To represent your country and to win the World Cup is a life changing and life defining moment.
Maybe one day the World Baseball Classic will take on that kind of meaning. Maybe. It is not there now. To have an event that is billed as the International showcase for the sport and to not have all the best players in the sport participating takes away from the meaning of the event. There was no Mike Trout, Bryce Harper or Clayton Kershaw. That is a problem. When some of the best players in the world choose not to participate, it hurts. American players seem to put more significance on what they do for their teams during the MLB regular season for the teams that pay them than they do for this international event. Just ask Mets ace Noah Syndergaard, “I’m a Met. And ain’t nobody made it to the Hall of Fame or win a World Series playing in the WBC.” Syndergaard made his point pretty clear and pretty simple. The WBC does not carry much significance or hold much weight with him. Angels outfielder Mike Trout, a two time MVP, said he will now play in the 2021 WBC because he was impressed by the passion that was on display. He did not feel the need to participate this go-around. You certainly were able to witness that passion when the United States faced the Dominican Republic in front of a sold-out crowd in Miami. Both teams had fun and you could feel the energy of the event while you were watching it at home.
Maybe these first few years of the event will be looked back on as the building block phase moving forward. The early years could be the foundation of an event that captures the imagination of the world. If that is to be the case, the players need to be all-in like Major League Baseball is. There are other issues, like start times, games were started too late when out west. Also, when is the perfect time to run the event during the calendar year. I have come to the conclusion there is no perfect time to run the event. Also, the length of a baseball game continues to be an issue during the WBC as it is with Major League Baseball.
Put all of those issues aside, what it comes down to is the players need to lead the way. They need to place significance on the event above and beyond anything else. If all the best players don’t, the fans won’t and the event will not gain the momentum and growth moving forward. If they do, this might eventually become the worldwide event that MLB craves.