David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Team USA hasn't played a game that counts yet. But after sending Mark Teixeira back to New York Tuesday with a strained right wrist tendon, there's a sense that the World Baseball Classic already has lost.
It didn't really matter who the player was. As Team USA manager Joe Torre said after Tuesday's exhibition tie with the White Sox, the process to find Teixeira's replacement already had begun. The bigger concern is borrowing a healthy player from a team, in this case the Yankees, and returning him in a sling or cast.
We're not saying it's fair or even logical. But the perception is that playing in this tournament, at this time of year, is too big a risk with a 162-game schedule around the corner.
It's the reason why some of the biggest stars take a pass on playing -- whatever the public excuse is -- and teams don't exactly twist their arms to go. Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw were two elite pitchers who skipped it, and a pair of the game's brightest young stars, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, will be spectators.
Bud Selig's commitment to growing the game around the planet is an admirable goal, but individual clubs are operating a business, as well, and the players also have plenty of dollars at stake.
In Teixeira's case, the WBC isn't to blame. A workout fiend, Teixeira showed up early Tuesday for some extra cage work and suffered the wrist injury while hitting off a tee. It wasn't batting practice on the field, or even flip tosses. This was about as benign an exercise that can happen in baseball. Maybe other than playing catch.
"Just the way he was hurt, certainly it wasn't anything that he wouldn't have been doing [back in Tampa]," Torre said. "It was just a freak thing."
But Torre, a former Yankees manager himself, knows that how the injury happened doesn't make it hurt any less. If he were still in the Bronx, Torre would have been fielding dozens of questions about why the Yankees let Teixeira leave camp. He knows how difficult it is to walk this line with the WBC.
"Yeah, that's the thing you keep your fingers crossed," Torre said. "In fact, when I talked to the general managers at the meeting, I said, my goal is to get guys back to you in better shape than we got them, basically because it's later in spring training.
"But I can't guarantee anything because things happen. This certainly was a surprise to all of us -- including Tex."
No doubt. Any player with the tiniest twinge before the WBC immediately withdraws himself from consideration, with the club's blessing, of course. And in late February and early March, there usually is an epidemic of sore limbs and aching backs.
Preserving the health of these players is the WBC's prime directive -- other than putting on a good show -- and seeing what happened to Teixeira immediately takes the focus off the field. It's just bad publicity for a tournament that needs every toehold to advance the cause.
"I could see if a guy was sliding into second base or something like that and [you could] say it's the competition," Torre said. "But this wasn't even the case here. This was something evidently he does every day just before he starts taking his batting practice or stuff in the cage."
We're not saying it's a fair criticism. Or deserved. But while Torre's club was playing the White Sox, Teixeira was on a plane back to New York for an appointment with the Yankees' medical specialists. And the last swing he took was as a member of Team USA.
As Torre mentioned, Teixeira was not doing anything out of the ordinary. He was only doing what players in Florida and Arizona do at this time every year. The only thing different was the uniform, and that's what makes these injuries tougher to digest.
When it happens in Tampa or Port St. Lucie or Fort Myers, it's considered a bad break, an unlucky bounce. In the WBC, it's labeled an unnecessary risk, a foolish gamble. Judging by the initial reports, Teixeira figures to be fine after a week to 10 days and his regular season shouldn't suffer for it.
That's the hope, anyway. Like Torre said, everyone's fingers will remain crossed for another two weeks, then the WBC is over.