Falling for the WBC and everything that comes with it.
I’m an extremely new devotee of the World Baseball Classic. I didn’t like it in 2006, didn’t watch it in 2009, and was a jackass about it on Twitter in 2013. As recently as a few months ago, when there were reports that the tournament might be doomed if it didn’t yield higher attendance and more profit this year than in the past, I was all for simply letting it die.
Did rooting against Team USA in the WBC make sense?
One of the most stunning parts about following the World Baseball Classic as a social- and other-media-connected human being was seeing how many other Americans paying attention were rooting—strongly or mostly more casually—against the United States. Part of that is probably my own state of watching sports after five years as a writer, so let me explain briefly.
It didn’t take long to stop rooting for sports teams once I started covering professional baseball. Sure, I rooted for good stories, and on plenty of occasions when there were day games looming or beers to be drunk, rooted for short games. And I occasionally found myself rooting for people, though I tried my hardest not to let that interfere with my work and believe I succeeded at that while on the beat.
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The Dominican Republic defeats Puerto Rico to win the World Baseball Classic.
Watching a championship game between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico without having seen most of the previous contests between the two rival countries is a little like starting a show in its fourth-season finale. There are story arcs, plot points, and dramatic payoffs you’re only vaguely aware of, and you missed the episode where they introduced the first baseman. Fortunately, most baseball games are bottle episodes, and most of the actors have faces you’ve seen before. And from the first pitch of last night’s WBC final on, it was clear to anyone watching that both teams really, really wanted to win.
In Puerto Rico, many people were able to watch the game for free in movie theaters and public squares. In the mainland US, many people weren't able to watch the game at all, depending on their cable providers. So in case you couldn’t or didn’t see most of the tournament but clicked here to find out how it ended, let me briefly set the scene. Previously on the WBC, the Dominicans went 3-0 in the first round, 3-0 in the second round (in which the bullpen threw 12 2/3 shutout innings), and defeated the Netherlands 4-1 on Monday night to advance to the finals (with four more scoreless innings in relief). They entered the game as the tournament’s only remaining undefeated team. Puerto Rico knocked off two-time WBC winners Japan on Sunday and reached the final with a 5-3 record (but an 0-2 tally against the DR). Due to their dominance in earlier rounds, the Dominican got last licks on Tuesday.
I’ve become slightly obsessed with the World Baseball Classic. When I learned the semifinals and finals of the 2013 Classic would be played at AT&T Park in San Francisco, I made sure to purchase our regular-season seats for all three games. I’m regretting that decision a little now that they’re flogging $5 bleacher seats for the second semifinal game, but the buyer’s remorse is minimal; after all, it’s not every day that an international baseball event is held in one’s own backyard.
The first semifinal game took place on Sunday night and pitted Japan, the two-time defending WBC champ, against a plucky Puerto Rico team that really had no business making it out of pool play. They faced elimination twice and beat Italy and the United States to guarantee a semifinal berth, ultimately losing to the Dominican Republic in what amounted to a seeding game. Had they won, they would have had an additional day off in which to travel to San Francisco from Miami, and they’d face the Netherlands. But they lost to the D.R., meaning they had to fly west immediately after their Saturday game in order to face Japan on Sunday on a short turnaround and as a heavy underdog.
The pitch before the pitch that sent the Dominican Republic to the WBC semifinals.
If you weren’t watching the World Baseball Classic on Thursday night, you missed a memorable moment with one out in the top of the ninth, when Dominican Republic pinch-hitter Erick Aybarbroke a 1-1 tie with a single off US closer Craig Kimbrel, driving in Nelson Cruz from third. The go-ahead run proved to be the winning run, sending the 5-0 Dominicans to the semifinals and the 3-2 Americans to an elimination game against Puerto Rico on Friday.
A simple proposal to increase the quality of WBC competition.
Doug Thorburn’s baseball obsession runs much deeper than the pitching mound, so he’ll be expressing his compulsive thoughts on other baseball topics in this new semi-weekly column. His regular column, Raising Aces, can still be found at the usual time and channel.
I sit in my baseball cocoon (a.k.a. “the office”), watching a live game of playoff-caliber baseball at three o'clock in the morning (PST), with two teams representing their home nations in front of a packed stadium. The home-field advantage leans toward team Japan, and the two-time defending champs are looking to punch their ticket to San Francisco with the top seed and a victory over the surprising team from the Netherlands. Every few years there is a small window of opportunity to watch important baseball games on a night owl's schedule, and I realize that it's a good day to see the sunrise.
The United States produces the most major-league starters, but there are exceptions.
In What It Takes, Richard Ben Cramer calls adrenaline generated by postseason baseball "America's holy water." Cramer, who passed away earlier this year, never identified which nation ascribes divinity to liquids generated by the World Baseball Classic. Various pundits have spent the week suggesting it's not America. Very well. But say this about the WBC: It does spur curiosity when it comes to the styles of play, the quality of players, and the oft-confused alignment of players. In a sense, the WBC goes well with Richard Justice's chronicling of Jeff Luhnow.
Justice got Luhnow to speak on a number of topics, the most interesting of which revolved around analytics in amateur markets, specifically the international front. Luhnow provided what amounts to the money quote when he said, "My approach was that analytics has very little to do with it except for the fact you can study the market, understand what types of players have been successful. Are there common characteristics among those players that have been successful? Have they been signed at 16, 17, 18? Do they tend to be corner outfielders from the Dominican, shortstops from Venezuela?"
A day of games at the inaugural World Baseball Classic was enough to convert one skeptic.
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Shortly before the first World Baseball Classic began, Joe Sheehanexplained why he was against it. Ten days later, after watching some WBC action in person, he changed his tune in the piece reprinted below, which was originally published on March 9, 2006.
Which Asian stars will shine in the WBC'and maybe one day in MLB?
In the first two editions of the World Baseball Classic (WBC), Asian teams have consistently outperformed their foreign counterparts. Japan won both the 2006 and 2009 tournaments, and Korea’s 12-4 record is the best of any country. Korea won a bronze in 2006 and a silver medal in 2009’s extra-inning, all-Asian final against Japan. There are several reasons for this apparent dominance, mainly arising from how much more seriously the Asian teams view the tournament than their Western counterparts.
Major-league players and managers see the tournament as an extended spring training, or an exhibition akin to an All-Star Game. Players are substituted not for strategic purposes but to ensure that everyone “gets their work in.” Instead of using an active manager, the U.S. team has been coached by two managers—Buck Martinez and Davey Johnson—who hadn’t worked in several seasons, making rapport with players more difficult. Additionally, many major-league players declined to participate, leaving the best players off the rosters of Western teams.
Four hypothetical WBC teams, Jack Cust's favorite snack, and other stuff.
It's 2013, which, as you well know, means it's time for the World Baseball Classic, which in turn means that it's time to speculate about rosters and project results and ask just how much Italian blood you need to be eligible and complain about Team Canada's weird caps and be jealous of Team Mexico's sweet sweet sweet unis. More than all that, though, here's what I'm really interested in: