The World Baseball Classic begins in earnest today, and the event surely would "attract more domestic attention" if more "big names" played for the U.S. team, according to Sean Gregory of TIME. Even if players like Nationals P Stephen Strasburg and CF Bryce Harper and Angels LF Mike Trout "all participated, the WBC would face larger structural issues." Unlike soccer, hockey and basketball, int'l competition "is not in baseball's DNA." Moreover, who is Team USA's "big rival in this competition?" This only is the WBC's third event, and baseball's "entry into the global competition market has to start somewhere." But the odds of an int'l baseball competition "catching fire would be better if, like basketball and hockey, it was attached to the marketing machine of the Olympics." With the event "failing to catch on early, there’s little incentive for millionaire players to risk injury and inconvenience by participating" (TIME.com, 3/5). USA TODAY's Jorge Ortiz notes Team USA manager Joe Torre "couldn't lure top American players" such as Trout, Harper, Strasburg, Giants C Buster Posey, Angels RF Josh Hamilton, Tigers 1B Prince Fielder and Pirates CF Andrew McCutchen to play. Phillies P Cole Hamels, who declined to participate, said, "My allegiances are to the Phillies and the organization winning a World Series. I think winning a World Series is a little more important than, I don't know, whatever trophy they give out for the World Baseball Classic" (USA TODAY, 3/7). Meanwhile, on Long Island, David Lennon wrote under the header, "WBC Plus Injury Equals Why Bother Classic." After Team USA on Tuesday sent Yankees 1B Mark Teixeira back to N.Y. with a strained right wrist, there is a "sense" the WBC "already has lost." Lennon: "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 just is "bad publicity for a tournament that needs every toehold to advance the cause" (NEWSDAY, 3/6).
NOT JUST TEAM USA: SI's Michael Farber notes while the '06 and '09 WBC were "among the highest-rated sports programs in Japanese television history, the champs lack star power." Yankees LF Ichiro Suzuki and P Hiroki Kuroda and Rangers P Yu Darvish all "declined to play" for Japan. Also, Dodgers Ps Peter Moylan (Australia) and Alfredo Amezaga (Mexico), as well as Rangers SS Jurickson Profar (Netherlands) "have chosen club over country." If MLB were "utterly committed to the event, it would not give teams the right to bar recently injured players from competing," which is what occurred with Reds P Johnny Cueto (Dominican Republic) (SI, 3/11 issue).
TOUGH TO GAIN TRACTION: The AP's Tim Dahlberg writes for the WBC to "be meaningful in the country where baseball grew up, some changes are in order." Dahlberg: "Judging from the lukewarm response by most U.S. players, baseball also needs to find an incentive to make them play." The WBC is a "flawed concept," as die-hard fans "don't greet it with little more than a yawn" (AP, 3/6). Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s David Kaplan said it does not seem like the WBC is “catching on" in the U.S., and it "doesn’t seem like anybody cares.” The AP’s Jim Litke called the tourney a "goofy marketing scheme." Litke: "I thought about calling it the ‘World Business Classic’ at one point because they’re trying to sell jerseys and hats around the rest of the world.” Yahoo Sports Radio’s Jason Goch: "It’s worked out in Asia, but let’s face it, people are more worried about the fact these guys are leaving their teams they’re going to play for during the season and might get hurt than play in this event.” The Chicago Sun-Times’ Adam Jahns said, “I’m sure teams are trying to discourage their highly-paid stars not to play” (“Sports Talk Live,” Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 3/6). The N.Y. Daily News’ Bob Raissman said a lot of players “don’t want to risk the big-money contracts they have by getting hurt” in the WBC. The Daily News' Bruce Murray said most fans do not know the WBC is “being played, and if they do, they have no idea where it’s being played” ("Daily News Live," SportsNet N.Y., 3/6). In Phoenix, Dan Bickley wrote in the U.S., "we don't care as much as the rest of the world." That is "not to say the World Baseball Classic isn’t good for business," as it "helps globalize the game." To the rest of the world, this tournament "is a really big deal." In the U.S., we "care about the World Series, not the World Baseball Classic" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/6). But in S.F., Bruce Jenkins wrote he has been "absolutely hooked from the beginning" of the WBC. Jenkins: "We're all suckers for international competition, and if the WBC falls short of that Olympic Games-World Cup Soccer standard, who's to argue with passion-drenched baseball during one of the quietest times of the sports year?" That "passion" has been "isolated into tight little pockets of the tournament so far, countered by widespread indifference" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 3/6).
INTERNATIONAL AFFAIR: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Costa & Barbarisi write Spain's WBC team only features one native player, so "more than any other team, Spain embodies one of the enduring quirks of the tournament, which is now in its third edition: Loose rules that allow fringe countries to compensate for a lack of baseball talent by signing just about anyone who could remotely identify with them." Spain has the "lowest number of natives on any team in the tournament." And only a few have "ever lived in Spain." Most are "from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and the United States." They are "eligible to play based on various ancestral ties to the country." Unlike other int'l events such as the Olympics and the World Cup, which "require athletes to be citizens of the countries they represent, the WBC makes some notable exceptions for non-citizens." One player, a Venezuelan pitcher, "qualified for Team Spain by marrying a Spanish woman." For others, all it took was "documentation showing their grandparents were born in Spain." MLB Senior VP/Int'l Business Operations Paul Archey said that one of the goals of the WBC is to "grow baseball in countries like Spain to the point where they can eventually field homegrown teams." But the rules in the meantime are "necessary to enable them to be competitive" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/6).