Hats off to the Japanese team, winners of the first World Baseball, er, um “Classic”. The apologists for this sham series are out in force headed by Jayson Stark, who lately has tripped all over himself trying to be the good centrist.
Were the Japanese represented by their best players like, say, Cuba? It’s anybody’s guess since we don’t know much about either of them. [We do know, as kuff6 points out below in his comment, that one of Japan's best players and a Yankee (NY variety), Matsui Hideki, did not play.] We assume Cuba sends its best players because, we believe, so much more than on-field supremacy is at stake for them. But Fidel has been known to hold back some players he fears might defect Were the Venezuelans and Dominicans fielding their best squads? Pretty much so with the exception of Pedro Martinez, a legitimate (?) scratch with a toe injury. [Editor's note: my point is incorrect regarding the Dominican team: again, see kuff6 comment below.] And Korea? Does anyone know? As for South Africa, the Netherlands and Canada, does anyone care?
What we do know with certainty is the Americans didn’t send their best squad. Everyone admits that, especially the players, who put on a good front. There is no point recapitulating all the reasons many star players stayed home.
Come to think of it, American “dream teams” no matter what the sport are assembled in highly suspect ways these days. Basketball in the 2004 Olympics? Hockey at Torino? Baseball in 2006!!
* * * * * * * * *
If anyone’s reputation suffered more than that of the American squad it was umpire Bob Davidson’s. But, hey, those guys need spring training, too, so let’s not get too down on Mr. Davidson. Remember, as long-time AL umpire legend Nestor Chylak said, "They expect an umpire to be perfect on Opening Day and to improve as the season goes on."
And this wasn’t even the regular season. But it was more than practice.
* * * * * * * * *
Robinson Tejeda was caught between the proverbial rock and hard place when he opted to play (very sporadically as it turned out) for his country in the WBC and gave up the chance to pitch regularly at training camp with the Phils. Now he is struggling to get in sufficient innings as he tries to earn the last roster spot among the pitchers. [Jason Weitzel points out the real story below in his comment.]
Before people jump all over him for what they consider his mistake in judgment, remember he is from a small country (total population just under 9 million) with an incredibly tight-knit baseball community.
What would you have done?
* * * * * * * * * *
Given the number of errors I made in this post I was tempted to just delete it, but in spite them I stand by my overall assessment of the WBC.