At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Friday, January 13, 2006

World Baseball Classic: A Good Idea Being Cheapened

Am I the only one who is worried that the World Baseball Classic is being cheapened by all the teeth-gnashing over which players will appear in the World Baseball Classic, and for which team they’ll play? After a very strong philosophical start, the event now is missing some of its greatest attractions – though for reasons not entirely of its own doing – and may be teetering on the verge of becoming more of an international exhibition than the global challenge it first was intended to be.

To me, the question of who plays where is a simple one: as a player, you first decide either that want to play or you don’t. And if you do, then you represent the country of your birth and earn your way onto the squad the way you do in such other contests as, say, the Olympics. Well, as far as I can tell, the rules of WBC eligibility are a lot looser than this, and it appears that saying you want to play is enough to get you on the team.

Take A-Rod, for instance. Eligible to play for either the Dominican Republic or the United States, first he says he’ll play for the Dominican, then he says he won’t play at all rather than “dishonor” either side – though how honor plays into this is beyond me – and recent reports say he now apparently is leaning toward playing for the U.S. after all. Or consider Hideki Matsui. After first indicating he is participating in the contest, Matsui later says he’s not coming because he doesn’t want to have to pursue two goals (winning the WBC for Japan and the World Series for the Yankees) – though why these twin objectives need to be mutually exclusive is beyond me as well.

My favorite example, however, is Mike Piazza, who is taking the field for Italy because it’s the birthplace of his grandmother. Now, that makes sense!

Adding to the fun is the Yankees’ refusal to allow Jorge Posada to suit up at all (think this has anything to do with Matsui’s change of heart?), the U.S. Treasury’s exclusion of Cuba from the event, and the International Baseball Association’s subsequent announcement it will not sanction the tournament if Cuba doesn’t play. Suddenly, what was a terrific idea for raising baseball’s profile as a legitimately international sport seems not so good anymore, and it would be a shame if it is unable to restore its original luster.

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