By Jonathan Danielson
For the third straight World Baseball Classic, Team USA has failed to make it to the championship round. In 2006, they were eliminated in the second round by Mexico. In 2009, they lost in the semis to eventual champion, Japan. This year, they lost to Puerto Rico, which is ironic, since the unincorporated territory voted last November to become the US’s 51st state.
The next time Team USA has a chance to redeem itself won’t be for another four years, but something has to change with the way the team is structured before 2017 rolls around. The US National Team has to do something to become more competitive on the international stage. This is supposed to be our pastime after all. This is supposed to be our nation showcasing our country’s best players.
But to do that, that means the country’s best players actually need to be on the team.
Without disparaging the time, effort, or commitment of the players on the 2013 roster, I think it’s safe to say that Team USA, while having a considerable amount of talent, did not have the greatest talent nation has to offer.
Yes, R.A. Dickey is the reigning CY Young winner, and David Wright is Captain America, and Jimmy Rollins is Jimmy Rollins, but then you have players like Ryan Vogelsong on the roster. Vogelsong is a great pitcher, no question, but Vongelsong isn’t even the best pitcher on his own MLB team. That would be Matt Cain, but Cain was nowhere to be found. Where was he? Where was Justin Verlander, or Evan Longoria, or a load of other players who are our nation’s best and brightest?
Instead, when Wright was injured and couldn’t play, the team had Willie Bloomquist to fall back on. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bloomquist. He’s scrappy, driven, and he’s always there when you need him, but Bloomquist isn’t even a starter on his own team. He’s a utility man, and he only comes in when needed, which is fine when the MLB plays 162 games a year, but this is the national team with only a two week commitment. You mean to tell me there was no better option at third or shortstop then Bloomquist? If the team made it to the next round, Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres was supposedly going to join the roster, but why wasn’t he already on the team? Why wasn’t he Wright’s backup, or vice versa, or they were split-time starters together?
Joe Mauer is an excellent catcher, and Shane Victorino an excellent (albeit aging) outfielder, but where was Buster Posey or Josh Hamilton? Where was Prince Fielder or Matt Kemp? And yeah, they’re young, and yeah, maybe it was too late to get them on the team at that point, but where was Mike Trout or Bryce Harper (who, if they keep playing the way they have, better be on the 2017 team)?
Team USA needs to make sure they have the best talent available on their roster, but in reality, that’s only one battle in the greater war. Another battle is againstall of the rules which MLB teams enforce on the players’ participation. There is a fine line between looking out for a financial investment and being obstructionists, and major league teams have reportedly crossed that line. Rumors allege that players dropped out of their commitment due to pressure from their organizations. Due to negotiations with their contracts. That’s why their, reportedly, was no Verlander. No Kemp. No Cain.
The World Baseball Classic is supposed to be the Olympics of baseball (since the Olympics cut the sport after 2008). If that’s the case, it needs to be treated that way, and MLB teams need bite the bullet and understand. Yeah, it sucks if your best players are getting a little more wear-and-tear than they would if they sat out the tournament, but this is a two-week commitment that happens every three or four years. Big league teams need to suck it up, and if their players want to play for their country, whether its Team USA or any other nation, they should not only openly allow it, they should encourage it. They should almost make it mandatory.
And after that’s fixed, there needs to be a fundamental change in how the games are broadcasted. This means the games should not solely air on MLB TV. They should not just be an event for one station (which also happens to be the company that owns the tournament). The WBC should be made openly available, and the games should air on Fox and ESPN as well. They should be played on stations that cover baseball during the regular season. It should be an event, like the Olympics are, and not just another game in March. It should not just be a glorified Spring Training game, because if it is, it doesn’t matter who plays on Team USA, or any other nation’s team. Because if it is, why should anyone really even care?