This is the second part of a two part blog post on the World Baseball Classic.
No, you shouldn’t care about the WBC. At least not until they fix many of the things that prevent it from being one of the best baseball events in the world – if not THE baseball event. The top problems that affect the popularity of a Baseball World Cup are: the timing, the location(s), and the lack of star players. There are many other problems as well but these are the ones that are in dire need of fixing. So let’s dive into each of these.
First of all, the timing. Since it’s inception way back in 2006, the WBC has been held in March. March, for those who don’t follow Major League Baseball, is when Spring Training takes place; the time of year when athletes are preparing themselves for the long grind of the season. It’s the time of the year where players are stretching and getting comfortable into their routines that will guarantee they are set to start the regular season when April kicks in. Because players are not yet at their peak physical condition, then many players prefer to skip the WBC and focus on their preparation and on the results of the regular season.
Furthermore, the timing also works against teams who are trying to compete for a championship – at least this is the argument against American players participating in the tournament. There is more glory in winning the American championship than representing your country and winning the true World championship.
A logical solution to all this would be to move the WBC to another part of the year. But when? You can’t play in July because that would be in the midst of the MLB, Korea Baseball Organization, Nippon Professional Baseball league, and other international leagues. This would force players to quit from their teams in order to play for their countries and possibly jeopardizing national championships. So this would probably be a no-go. What about in November or December? This would be ideal but unfortunately, it is winter and baseball is a summer sport. Unless the game is played inside roofed stadiums, Japan, the US and Korea would be out as hosts – similar to the problem FIFA and Qatar are facing for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The second problem is location. Currently, the WBC has been played on two continents, with each group playing in a different country – as of this iteration, Group A played in Tokyio, Group B in Seoul, Group C in Jalisco, and Group D in Miami. Because of time zones, this is not very viewer friendly, meaning that audiences are very niche and focused on select time zones. I would have loved to see Israel take on the Netherlands but a 4:30 am start time is ridiculous. I imagine that people in the Netherlands would have want to see the Dominican Republic take on Venezuela, but they played at 6 EST which is 11 pm in Amsterdam.
Additionally, the constant travelling can also work against the players, since after each round, they need to move to another city or country. This messes with their internal clocks and can cause them to lose focus and play a worse game than what we would expect. By having one country host the tournament, players benefit by moving less, the tournament can become shorter (as of right now, it lasts three weeks), and we ensure that audiences are connected at specific times.
Finally, and this is probably the most important part: the tournament lacks star players. One of the main attractions of the FIFA World Cup is that we get to see the best players on the pitch: Messi, Ronaldo, Lahm; all of them lineup for their nations and we get to see quality matches. Meanwhile, the WBC lacks the same appeal. Yes, we have a loaded Venezuela team, and Japan lost one of their star players – Shohei Otani – to injury before the start of the tournament. But the American team lacks the talent of Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, and Clayton Kershaw: the best three players in the US. Because of a rule against defection, Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig can not suit up for Cuba – though Puig was open to play for Mexico.
If players aren’t open to participating in the WBC, then all potential is drained from it; [American] audiences see no reason to tune in, and the whole game is affected by this. If the WBC doesn’t solve this issue where players don’t (or can’t) represent their nations, then the quality of the game is set to suffer.
Until the WBC fixes these issues then no, you shouldn’t care about it. The WBC is a great event, I personally love it and wait for it every four years. But I lament that it is not living up to its potential and it pains me to think that if this doesn’t happen soon, then this iteration of a world baseball tournament will fail as all other attempts before it.