Thursday, March 09, 2006

Improving The WBC

The WBC isn’t going away even if one of its marquee teams seems poised for an unexpected early exit in this, the inaugural tourney. So, how can the organizers make this event better, both more competitive and representative, apart from insuring that the Al Leiters of baseball do not take up roster spots in the future?

If MLB is really committed to a world-class event showcasing the best talent, they should begin by staging the games at the optimal time. Nearly everyone agrees the current schedule is anything but optimal.

To achieve that end, MLB can begin by shortening its own season. By doing so they would eliminate many of the objections to the current WBC format. Playing these games in the middle of the MLB and Japanese seasons was understandably never an option. The NHL screws up its season every four years when the winter Olympics roll around and baseball wasn’t going to make that mistake. Furthermore, no one wanted to have the Playoffs and World Series end in late October (to say nothing of early November) and then send a bunch of tired, arm and leg-weary players off on some international junket. Conversely, many in baseball didn’t want to play these games in March, when they interfered with Spring Training and players’ preparation for the coming season and when most players were simply not in playing shape. Finally, few if any people wanted the games to take place during the winter, when the leagues in Latin America are flourishing and the majority of players are recuperating.

By shortening the major league season to, say, 154 games it would be possible to finish the World Series earlier and go right into the WBC with the best representation from all participants. Sure, some people will still decline to play due to concerns about injuries or fatigue following the regular season but fewer players would be likely to opt out citing concern they were not ready to compete including those who used that excuse as a smokescreen for other motives.

Dontrelle Willis might have been bombed no matter when he pitched, but based on past performance it seems far less likely he would have imploded like he did against Canada yesterday had the game been played in October rather than March.

Once these world tourneys gain a foothold it will be difficult to abruptly end them, especially when 100,000 Canadian youngsters who never picked up a baseball before yesterday can become fans overnight.


Billy Mac said...

I don't see MLB shortening the season, since this is loss of revenue. Also there are MLB single season records to consider. I agree that March is absolutely the wrong time to hold the WBC for the reasons you mentioned. One suggestion I heard was to start the WBC during the League Championship series week in October. Since all of the LCS games are at night, WBC games could be played during the day. Players would be limited to the teams not in the playoffs. This still gives you a lot of good players to choose from, injury risk is less of an issue, and pitchers would not be limited to pitch counts. Have the final round the week after the World Series when people are still into baseball.

Tom Goodman said...

I thought of something very similar but rejected it for a few reasons:

1. The fifty players not considered should be;

2. With four teams in the playoff finals (prior to WS), a lot more players who would be eligible might not be pending outcome. This makes it hard to plan for most countries;

3. If WS is completed, every player would be eligible.

That said, you are probably correct that MLB would not give up the regular season revenues.

Nat said...

The more I read about it and think about it, the more it seems the current set-up for the WBC is the best of a bunch of not very good options.

I don't see MLB shortening the schedule to accommodate a mid-summer tournament and I have a feeling that fans, like me, wouldn't like the interruption either. Possibly teams would be opposed, too, not wanting players to risk injury or wear-down in meaningless exhibition games during the season.

Tacking it on after the the regular season or WS is something that could be tried, but I suspect player interest would be down and maybe fan interest, too, coming at the end of a long season and a climactic World Series.

So I guess if there's going to be a WBC, throwing it in during spring training time along with all the other exhibition games isn't such a bad thing. Maybe a good thing, even, from the standpoint of giving more guys more opportunity to play and show what they have.

Of course, saying this makes me in basic agreement with Bud Selig, which is a good sign that I need to think about it a lot more.

Tom Goodman said...

I agree with both of you that MLB is not going to shorten its season. I don't know if they can afford it at this stage. Yesterday's game between the US and Japan was, by all accounts, a pretty taut affair, meaning that as the games go on they probably are resembling real baseball and not exhibition games. If so, the likelihood is the games will continue as constituted when constituted.

George S said...

Maybe someday the WBC will evolve into something worthwhile, but any tournament that has a mercy rule simply has too many unqualified teams in it. Why would anyone want to risk their star players in those games? (Speaking from personal experience, injuries never seem to happen in the tight games or against the better opponents. It's usually a blowout game or a bad player trying 150% that nails you!)
Secondly, if folks hope it will eventually turn into a soccer World Cup-style event, perhaps every 4 years, then they must keep in mind that the WC takes YEARS to play, not just a month or so. Teams must start playing qualifying matches several years before the actual tournament and they are even played during the regular league seasons. Can baseball national teams and leagues commit to that?
Next, in baseball in particular, to determine the best team you must play more than just a couple of games. Given this is the inaugural event, I can understand a little tentativeness, but if you are going forward, then a round-robin format needs to have at least 6 teams in a group (5 games played minimum) or have a straight elimination tournament that is at LEAST best of 3 games in the early rounds and then perhaps best of 5 for the final rounds.
Lastly, I love baseball. But do I really care if Italians love it? Do I care if the Netherlands suddenly embraces the game? No. I don't love baseball because of international competition. I don't care if it's an Olympic event. Is it important to 'promote' baseball all over the world? Why? From a business standpoint, ok, there's a ton of money to be made. From a fan standpoint, I couldn't care less if baseball is popular in China. Better For Bud to focus more on keeping baseball alive in this country, in the inner cities, among black athletes, in youth leagues, and even having healthier, more balanced major league teams and affordable ticket prices.