This is the first of a two-part piece on the World Baseball Classic.
Yes! Definitely yes! You should care about the World Baseball Classic (WBC). Why? There are several reasons why a world event should draw the interest of fans. Popularity, showcase of talent, national pride. But most of all, there’s the sense of bragging rights and being able to declare yourselves (actual) world champions. For this first segment, I’ll explore all the above reasons why the WBC makes sense.
Baseball, let’s be honest, is not a popular sport in the same way as football (soccer), tennis, or Formula 1. Baseball suffers here from two problems: it is not universally recognized, and second, except for a few cases, it is very isolationist. Heck, if you aren’t American, Japanese, or from anywhere in the Caribbean, chances are you’ve never seen a game or played the sport. So, how do we solve the first problem? We put on a national showcase (hey, this has been going on since 2006!). Since it’s current iteration, baseball has started to grow in many countries – especially in Europe. We’re starting to see more player background diversity.
The second problem is a little difficult to solve without this event. Baseball suffers from what I like to call convenient isolationism. What does this mean? What I call convenient isolationism is that baseball, as a world-wide sport, fails to market its talent. There are many players from different backgrounds that could easily attract younger audiences. Mike Trout, Yoenis Cespedes, Shohei Otani. This are some of the names of popular players that are tearing up competition in their different leagues and people outside of their markets don’t recognize them*. By having an international event, baseball players would be more marketable and recognizable – akin to Messi and Ronaldo on the international soccer scene. If we want to make baseball more popular, we need international in-house names. What better way to achieve this than with the WBC?
Furthermore, by having international pitcher-batter match-ups or incredible defensive plays that are performed outside of the American television markets, we aim at showing the talent of these people. Not many people are able to hit a 100 mile-per-hour fastball. Fewer are capable of throwing a well-placed slider. If we restrict our broadcasts to our home countries, what we’re doing is depriving the rest of the world of accessing these talented people. The WBC, however, would allow different countries to actually see what others are capable of doing. A 19-year-old Mexican kid is capable of striking out a Bunyan-esque Australian batter? What better way of seeing this than through the WBC, other than hoping that they each get signed to an MLB club, make the majors and play against each other. Phenoms get discovered on the international stage and boost ratings in the different markets. We need to take advantage of this to also increase popularity.
Finally, we come to the ever-present problem of calling the champion of the World Series the world champion. MLB is played in the US (and Canada). Even though they boast players from various nationalities, the teams involved are actually the US (or Canadian) champions. Marketing the final WBC series as the true World Series would legitimize the World Champion slogan and would help baseball become as popular as soccer. If you don’t believe me, ask any soccer fan. The pride of winning the FIFA World Cup and calling your country World Champion is more exhilarating than winning La Liga, Premier League, or Bundesliga and calling yourself world champion. In domestic leagues, you are the national champion. In international events, then you can declare yourself the World Champion.
Granted, there are a few problems with the WBC that I’ll explore in a second article. But right now, when baseball is striving to become a more popular sport, when it is on the heels of returning to the Olympics; what baseball needs right now is an international event that will bring prestige and recognition to the sport. Marvel at the talent and show pride in your national squad. But most of all, enjoy the fact that we have an event that can capture the beauty of the many facets of our sport.
*Except the Sabermetric community who has a way of finding out who is talented in each league.