David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991. Show More
Love it or hate it, the World Baseball Classic isn't going anywhere. Perhaps more accurately, we should say it's coming back, for sure, in 2017, on the tournament's regular, four-year rotation -- conveniently scheduled so as not to collide with soccer's World Cup.
During the WBC's two-week run here in the United States, the reviews were mixed, depending on whom you asked. MLB officials, including Bud Selig, praised it as essential to the international growth of baseball. The commissioner even mentioned what he believed to be the "sociological'' impact around the globe, in addition to, of course, the economic gains.
Immediately after the Dominican Republic beat Puerto Rico late Tuesday night to win the WBC title, ending Japan's two-tourney streak, Tim Brosnan, MLB's executive vice president of business operations, held court on the confetti-strewn infield of AT&T Park and defied the WBC's critics.
Saying that Selig is "1,000-percent committed'' to the WBC's return in 2017, Brosnan pointed to the huge overseas television ratings as proof of the tournament's gains since it began in 2006.
"It's a worldwide event, and it's an unqualified success,'' Brosnan said. He summed up the impromptu news conference by saying, "Home run.''
Here's what went right and wrong during the 2013 WBC:
Given the choice, we'll take more baseball rather than less, and seeing real, competitive games in March, rather than the Grapefruit or Cactus League variety, is a big thumbs up. The reason spring training always seems so long -- for players, for fans, for media -- is because it's six-plus weeks of practice. Having an international tournament during this mundane period is a plus, and watching stars Robinson Cano, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Joe Mauer and Carlos Beltran -- just to name a few -- play meaningful games at this time of year is a welcome change of pace every four years.
It's also important to note that just because the WBC tends to get a lukewarm reception in the U.S., that doesn't mean other nations, and their players, don't get excited about it. Japan had more than 350 credentialed media for the WBC semifinals in San Francisco, and its victory over the Netherlands on March 10 was the most-viewed sporting event in the country in the past 12 months, beating the 2012 Olympics and World Cup qualifying matches.
As for the eventual champion Dominican Republic, its enthusiasm for the WBC was off the charts. Not only did the Dominicans, who finished 8-0, treat every game like Mardi Gras, they felt it was their mission to restore that country's rightful place in the international baseball community after what they described as a national disgrace, the first-round exit in 2009.
How big was it? Moments after Tuesday's win, Cano and Reyes were passing around a cellphone with the Dominican president, Danilo Medina, calling to offer congratulations. To the D.R., the WBC didn't seem like a promotional engine for MLB's worldwide marketing machine. It was baseball, it was fun and it was very significant.
"As a player, I'll never forget this,'' Reyes said. "This is one of the greatest moments of my career and my life.''
According to MLB, Tuesday's win over Puerto Rico was the most-watched sporting event in the D.R. in at least 10 years.
Even for Italy, which got bounced in the second round, the progress was measurable. Each victory increases the exposure that these developing baseball programs need to sustain momentum -- and funding -- overseas.
However great the TV ratings, the global socioeconomic impact or even a few exciting games are not going to make Dodgers fans feel any better about losing Hanley Ramirez (thumb surgery) for the first two months of the regular season. Or make Yankees fans forgive the WBC for Mark Teixeira missing games until mid-May. We're still waiting to see if Wright, Captain America himself, makes it back for the April 1 opener.
Conventional wisdom says that each one of these players was not hurt specifically because of the WBC. But that's not entirely accurate. Although it's true that Teixeira suffered his wrist injury hitting balls off a tee -- before Team USA's first exhibition game -- he later admitted having to start his offseason preparation much earlier so he could be ready for the WBC. Extra hitting means extra strain on the wrist, and -- voila -- perhaps the injury was a result.
Wright, too, could have been a casualty of the WBC's more intense games, and playing through his intercostal strain for a week was something he would not have done for the Mets in Grapefruit League action. As for Ramirez, he jammed his thumb on a fielding play in the title game. It was an injury that easily could have happened during spring training, but Ramirez was playing out of position at third base in a game that the Dominicans treated like the World Series.
Going forward, it's always going to be a struggle to get some of the top players to participate in the WBC, and that injury report certainly won't help. Even though teams are not supposed to stand in the way, numerous baseball officials said during the past two weeks that many do discourage some players from taking part.
And really, do you blame them? The WBC makes money for everyone -- from MLB to its teams to its players -- but not enough to offset the loss of a star for a significant amount of time, if that's what happens. It's a gamble MLB willingly makes every four years, a necessary sacrifice for what Selig insists is a greater international good. Many still would disagree.