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March 6, 2013

The Lineup Card

6 Ways We'd Change the WBC

by Baseball Prospectus

​1. Make it a Four-Day Tournament to Replace the All-Star Game
The World Baseball Classic has tried to copy the World Cup a little too much, especially the part where it lasts most of a month. It makes sense in soccer, because there aren't a lot of domestic club leagues—the major leagues of soccer where the players for the national teams earn their paychecks—that are playing games in June. And that allows the World Cup to have four team round-robin qualifying pools, followed by a Sweet 16 single-elimination tournament with three or four days off between games for each team. Because the WBC insists on having qualifying pools and 16 teams, the only place that it makes sense to play the games is in spring training. The result has been a laundry list of players who have politely declined to play due to the fact that they are coming off of injury, trying to make their major-league team, or just generally not interested.

Why not just make the WBC an eight-team single-elimination tournament? It can be run in July replacing the All-Star break and game, and you'll get to see most of the same players—in midseason form. Pick two different cities on either side of the country to host the quarterfinals and semifinals and to exploit the time zone differential. On Day 1, there are two games at 1:00 and 7:00 in each park (or whatever works for TV). On Day 2, the semifinal games would be played at night. On Day 3, it's a travel day to the city hosting the final on Day 4, in prime time. —Russell A. Carleton

2. Make Qualifying Rounds True Double-Elimination
When Spain beat Israel in the qualifying round of the World Baseball Classic way back in September, things should have been setting up for a great final game to see who'd advance to the real thing. Israel had beaten Spain 4-2 on the group's third day and after Spain survived South Africa, it beat Israel 9-7. Both teams had a loss, but the matchup between zero-loss Israel and one-loss Spain was considered the championship game in this modified double elimination, whereas in a true double-elimination format like the College World Series, the two now-one-loss teams would have played a legitimate final game.

In all three other qualifying pools, it didn't matter, since the zero-loss team beat the one-loss team in the championship game. So apologies for this sounding like a homer rant. It shouldn't be surprising that a tournament that's ultimately decided on a pair of best-of-1s values expediency over having the best team win, but in the qualifying rounds, they should take the time to play one more game if necessary. —Zachary Levine

3. Make the Best Players Play
There is one very simple way to make the World Baseball Classic better: Make the best players play in it. Major League Baseball should institute a rule for the WBC like it has for the All-Star Game in which a player, unless he has a legitimate injury or personal reason, must participate or face a substantial fine. Considering the Major League Baseball Players Association is partners with MLB in the WBC, the union would likely sign off on such a move. If not, then it’s time to put the WBC on the shelf and classify it as a good idea in theory that just wasn’t practical. —John Perrotto

4. Allow Countries with No Baseball Experience to Participate
The outcome of the WBC doesn’t matter much to most Americans. But the WBC is serious business elsewhere in the world, and that’s something to celebrate. More international interest means more people exposed to the sport, which ultimately leads to a larger talent pool and better big-league baseball.

So I’m pro-WBC, but I’m not much more likely to, well, watch it than I am to tune in to a given game in the Grapefruit League (though I am hoping to see some WBC action on a trip to Arizona this weekend). There’s no easy fix for my apathy. I can’t come up with a solution to raise the stakes—the tournament will always take a backseat to the regular season—but I can think of one way MLB could make me want to watch: permit countries with no professional baseball presence to participate.

Yes, this would lower the quality of play, but that’s precisely the point. We all have plenty of experience watching bad baseball players play each other; most of us have been those players. What we rarely see is bad baseball players playing really good baseball players. That makes it hard to tell how good major leaguers really are, since they’re always squaring off against other major leaguers, or something close to it. Well, I’m sick of seeing supremely talented athletes throw 98-mph fastballs with movement to other, equally gifted athletes who somehow manage to hit them hard. Instead, I want to see someone look like me out there, cowering at the sight of Craig Kimbrel. And that’s something that can happen only if the WBC opens its doors to the cream of the extremely thin crop from countries that have hardly heard of baseball. Micronesia, come on down.

It’s a facetious suggestion, but it would work for me. If you’re still not persuaded, think of it this way: It’s the closest baseball could come to Cool Runnings. Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme. Get on up, it’s baseball time. —Ben Lindbergh

5. No More Petty and Shallow Complaints About the Tournament
We get it. Not everybody likes the WBC, including some ballplayers themselves. It happens. But please stop with the minor and petty complaints about the whole process, especially when it comes to the roster selection. Belittling the tournament does no good for anyone, and it may even cause harm to Major League Baseball and its players. Maybe it is better for the Tigers if Justin Verlander doesn't pitch for Team USA, but that doesn't mean it's better for baseball. The tournament, after all, is meant to expand the sport to countries and people who might never have had the chance to know this glorious game otherwise. It's ridiculous to think that the best baseball players in the world all happen to live in the countries where baseball is played. By letting more of the world see great players playing great baseball, we give everyone a chance to experience and love this game. And if you think that offering a tournament where the US roster is filled with players who might make the All-Star team for a 100-loss club is going to do that, you're crazy.

The exposure and spread of baseball is a positive for professional ballplayers, period. It means more leagues to play in and more money to make. Belittling the tournament because it's an "exhibition" and "manufactured" is shooting the sport in the foot. So let's stop. —Larry Granillo

6. Re-Name it the World Honkbal Classic, and Have Vin Scully Call the Action
Like Ben, I am completely apathetic about the World Baseball Classic. The tournament simply never drew my attention. However, I believe there are a couple of factors that might send me to watch the televised games.

First, as Ian Miller expertly pointed out on Tuesday, "honkbal"—the Dutch word for "baseball"—is tremendously awesome. If the tournament's broadcasters were required to mention the word "honkbal" several times per inning, I might tune in. But such a fantastic word deserves a fantastic voice to pronounce it. Thus, I propose that Vin Scully be given full reign of the World Honkbal Classic game-calling duties. Aside from allowing viewers around the world to hear one of the greatest broadcasters of all-time, isn't it fun to imagine the bits of trivia and anecdotes Scully might dig up for countries like Team Israel and Team South Africa? —Stephani Bee

31 comments have been left for this article.

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