- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 13, 2019

You have to admire the chutzpah of a sports league that includes 29 American teams and one Canadian club but calls its final playoff round the “World Series.”

Major League Baseball, now in the midst of its playoffs, doesn’t quite possess the absurd pomposity of the NFL — there are no Roman numerals, for instance — but it’s a profoundly American institution with the time-honored American notion that we are the center of the world.

That’s not at all to say that the MLB is parochial. As of last season’s Opening Day, fully 27% of its players were foreign-born, most from the Caribbean and South and Central America. That region’s presence in the league is so great that the Miami Marlins have ordered their entire system’s coaching staff — from the big leagues to the minors — to take up Spanish. (The idea seems to be that the team is so bad in English that speaking Spanish instead could only help.) But baseball also has a healthy number of players from Japan, South Korea, Canada, and various European countries.

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What baseball has not been is expansionist, at least compared to other American sports leagues. Rather than set up shop around the world, it has instead hoovered up the best players from across the globe: it has invited the world in rather than set out to conquer it. MLB played a few games in London and Japan this summer, but its global footprint is nothing compared to that of the NFL or especially the NBA.

South Korean and Japanese fans may catch the occasional MLB game on television (and I can attest that it’s fun to watch baseball early in the morning by virtue of the time difference), but they also have their own local teams to which they are passionately devoted.

A few years ago that may have looked like a weakness: MLB was losing the globalization race. But now that’s not so clear. The NBA’s growing reliance on China — NBA China is now valued at more than $4 billion — has put it in the decidedly uncomfortable position of having to toe Beijing’s line on political issues that have nothing to do with sports. That’s created big headaches for its ownership and its players. Steph Curry, for instance, has been made to answer (or, rather, not answer) awkward questions about China, simply by virtue of his league’s Chinese operations. Neither Yankees star Aaron Judge nor Astros MVP Jose Altuve will face such problems.

Soccer’s FIFA, the organization governing the most international of sports, is another cautionary tale. Simply by virtue of being everywhere, it does a lot of business in corrupt, authoritarian states. Qatar, the Islamist entrepot, is accused of bribing its way to win hosting rights to the 2022 World Cup. FIFA has also clammed up on Qatar’s deplorable human rights record, and allegations that it has used slave labor to construct the facilities that will be used for the games.

The Olympics ran into similar troubles, especially with questions surrounding the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

Sports expansionism may have looked wise just a few years ago. But in this era of global retrenchment, baseball’s “America First” posture is a home run.

Ethan Epstein is deputy opinion editor of The Washington Times. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @ethanepstiiiine.

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