Captain America used to be Derek Jeter. Now it’s David Wright, and he had been the star for Team USA until a rib strain ended his stay in the World Baseball Classic.
Wright said he could have played, but the New York Mets said no and demanded he go for tests. That is normal procedure, as Team USA is forced to honor all wishes of a player’s parent club.
Minus Wright, his teammates lost twice and went home. With the U.S. elimination went TV ratings in this country. It also opened a door to study the relevance of the WBC, at least in its current form.
Relevance, maybe. Or need _ that may be a better question.
The WBC tournament, as we are led to believe, is designed to promote baseball throughout the world. Asian teams, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands get national TV coverage.
There are many human interest stories coming out of those clubs, whose players for the most part don’t compete in the majors, and this provides exposure to them and their passion for baseball.
In several cases, retired major league players and a couple Hall of Famers take roles as coaches for those countries. Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven and Mike Piazza all were involved in that way. This element of the WBC makes it relevant, but is it enough for baseball to need it?
What the world needs from Major League Baseball is not more high-profile competition _ rather, its help at the grass-roots level, help forming youth leagues and getting kids interested through proper instruction.
Now, the big question: Why can’t the USA Dream Team walk through this tournament with ease?
Answer one, it’s not a Dream Team. And two, there are three Latino countries _ the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela _ with talent just as rich. But even they haven’t won it.
That honor went to Japan in both previous tournaments. Why? Japan goes “all in” for the WBC, it’s out to prove something. The best they have play, even though this time it lost in the semifinals. It’s the Japanese mindset of anything worth doing is worth doing right, being invested totally.
The U.S. doesn’t take the same approach for this competition. It has higher priorities, players on mega-contracts to protect and personal issues. Many players have legitimate needs to stay with their clubs during spring training.
Josh Hamilton can’t leave Angels’ camp, Ryan Howard is coming off an injury and Stephen Strasburg has well-documented arm issues. There are legit reasons why the U.S. players are not “all in,” nor do I feel they ever will be.
With other countries, the stars who are physically OK do play. For some reason they are committed to country, not parent team. Look at Jose Reyes, who has good reason to turn down the Dominican invitation. He was a new player in camp with the Toronto Blue Jays, good reason to stay home. But no. With so many Dominican big names playing, he felt obligated.
Team USA was definitely formidable, with high-caliber players at all positions, but not an All-Star roster by any means. The catcher, third baseman, shortstop, right and left fielders would be on an All-Star roster, as would the 1-2 starters and a reliever or two, but that’s about it.