- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2006

The critics of the inaugural World Baseball Classic dismissed it as nothing more than an exhibition tournament with no particular meaning, yet yesterday those same critics were upset the U.S. team was eliminated after a 2-1 loss to Mexico on Thursday night.

So does this mean American baseball fans should only care if their team loses?

Let another chapter of national shame commence. We lost in Olympic basketball. We didn’t even contend in Olympic hockey. And now we can’t even crack the final four of the inaugural WBC.

Maybe we should have a NASCAR World Cup so we can save face.

How will history textbooks rewrite this embarrassment so generations of American youths in the future will be spared this pain?

I know — let’s blame it on Barry Bonds. If he had played in the tournament, as he originally announced, he would have come to the plate in the ninth inning and hit a game-winning home run to put the United States in the semifinals today in San Diego.

Wow, consider that for a minute.

What would be the one thing worse than losing to Mexico on Thursday night?

How about having Barry Bonds — the same Bonds who, according to two San Francisco Chronicle reporters’ account of his steroid abuse in their book, “Game of Shadows,” took everything from Stanozolol to human growth hormone (and it must have been a bad batch of human growth hormone considering Bonds has a lot of growing to do to qualify as a human being) — win the game with baseball commissioner Cadillac Bud Selig sitting in the stands?

Losing seems like a pretty cool hand, considering that alternative.

The perfect scenario might have been for the United States and the star-studded Dominican Republic to meet in the championship game Monday night. But by no means does the exit of the American team mean the WBC is a failure.

The goals of the tournament are still on track: to create more international interest in the game and therefore to add revenue. A final four that includes Japan, Korea and the Dominican certainly does that. (Cuba certainly adds a level of drama to the mix, but no one except Fidel is getting rich over its participation in the WBC.)

This was never about the United States proving its dominance in baseball, at least not for the powers that organized the tournament. It always has been about selling Major League Baseball merchandise and television rights internationally. After all, if the United States were playing tonight against Korea, the game wouldn’t be starting until 10 p.m. EST. That’s hardly catering to an American television audience.

Now, if it is Korea vs. Cuba in the championship game, OK, it is a dog. But if it is the Dominican vs. Japan, it is still, for the most part, major league. It is still David Ortiz and Albert Pujols vs. Ichiro Suzuki. It is still the legendary Sadaharu Oh in the dugout managing the Japanese team. It still has sizzle, and American baseball fans won’t need a scorecard to recognize many of the players, at least on one side.

“In the end, the beneficiary of all this will be baseball all over the world,” Cadillac Bud said. “I mean, who knows? Long after I’m gone, this event will be big. But more importantly than [whether] this event will be big is what it’s going to do for baseball, including American baseball.”

He doesn’t mean what it will do for baseball in America but what it will do for selling American baseball abroad as the game tries to play catchup with the NBA and the NFL. What Cadillac Bud would like to see most is not Derek Jeter on the field for the WBC championship game but a fan in China or Italy wearing a Derek Jeter or Roger Clemens jersey.

What would be good for baseball in America would be Roger Clemens wearing a Roger Clemens jersey this season which he likely will be come May, when he is eligible to re-sign with the Astros despite his goodbye after Thursday night’s loss, which he issued via a statement.

“I am very thankful for the opportunity to participate in this event,” Clemens stated. “It made all the work I did in the past six weeks worthwhile. I got to know a number of different players from different teams that, if not for this event, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity. They got to see the competitive side of my nature. For me, right now it’s goodbye.”

At least until Houston says hello, which, for Cadillac Bud, as he struggles with the Bonds controversy this season, would be more welcome news than any American WBC championship.

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