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.