This year’s World Baseball Classic began today. Really, you didn’t know? How could that *possibly* be?
Maybe that’s because it began at 5am Eastern Time. In Seoul, South Korea. In a game between the host and Israel. An Israeli team that (as far as I can tell) has no one from Israel on it. I’m not sure how many have even BEEN to Israel.
This will be the fourth World Baseball Classic and none of them have been won by the United States. The good ‘ol U.S. of A hasn’t even made it to the finals of a world tournament competing in our “national pastime.”
This is not some bitter American moaning about our rank inability to accomplish jack-spit in any team sport, other than basketball. Quite the contrary, I LOVE watching the Asian teams play baseball. Their emphasis on pitching, speed, defense, bunting, and raw fundamentals is what Major League ball was like before someone named Babe Ruth showed everyone how to make a handsome living hitting the ball a country mile.
Something else about the Asian teams—you can count on one hand the number of players they have that weigh north of 200 pounds. No steroid-addled sluggers are to be found on either side. Could it be that it takes more than raw muscle to hit a baseball real, real far? This is one case where size does NOT matter. If it did, Tiger Woods would be a mild-mannered office temp, rather than hitting 350-yard drives long and straight….well, once upon a time anyway.
But the WBC remains, at best, at curiosity here in the States. A quick glance at the stands of most any WBC game hosted in the US will lead to a lovely view of thousands of empty seats. Those seats that ARE occupied are usually done so by Japanese-Americans, Korean-Americans, Venezuelan-Americans, or Puerto Rican-Americans. The INS could likely meet their quota with a quick run through of PetCo Park during a Mexico-US game.
For the American TV viewer (i.e., where the money is) the WBC is hopelessly matched up against March Madness, despite honorable attempts to avoid direct scheduling conflicts. That, in turn, leads to odd start times and under-coverage. That’s a recipe for disaster, ratings-wise.
The timing also sucks for the U.S. teams. At a time in spring training where pitchers are still limbering up their arms, they’re asked to throw competitive pitches against teams that have either already started their regular seasons, or are coming off two months of highly-competitive Winter League ball in Latin America.
Plus, there is the specter of baseball’s declining popularity in America. This whole WBC concept was ginned up by Major League Baseball to spark domestic and international interest in the Grand Old Game. Baseball has been steadily disappearing from the American sports radar over the past 40 years—a gap that has been more-than-happily filled by the NFL and the NBA. It’s great sin…baseball doesn’t look good on TV.
As a baseball geek, I can’t say I’m pleased—but as a realist, I can’t say I’m surprised. As more and more American kids get soccer balls shoved in front of them, this trend will likely continue. American kids are less inclined to play a game where you can fail two-thirds of the time, and still be considered a spectacular success. A 67-percent failure rate is no way to attract modern-day kids.
Jeez, I’m sounding like a grumpy old man. GET OFF OF MY LAWN!!! Now, let’s Play Ball!