By Steve Phillips, ESPN
Managers and others have been complaining that the World Baseball Classic just makes spring training, which is already too long, unnecessarily longer. Some complain that it makes the season as a whole too long and say players are getting fatigued earlier. I don’t accept that.
There have been a lot of players who have bailed on the tournament, some for understandable reasons. But I don’t think the injury risks that would be involved with the WBC are any greater than they would be for any standard spring training schedule. If there was no WBC, the players would be throwing the same number of pitches and getting the same number of at-bats while getting themselves ready for the season. They could just as easily get hurt in a spring training game as they could in a World Baseball Classic game.
In fact, their risk for injury during spring training could actually be greater, because when players pull back a little bit, that is the time when they get hurt. As a general rule, players are not going to be operating at the same level of focus during a regular spring training game as they would during the WBC.
To people who say pitchers will be throwing much more intense pitches in the Classic than they would normally and who contend that this will tax pitchers’ arms, I say it’s a minimal difference and one that can be offset by players’ getting themselves in shape a little bit earlier. The notion that players will be more fatigued by the end of the season doesn’t ring true, either, because whether it’s playing in the Classic or just going through spring training, they are going to be on the field for roughly the same amount of time.
Now, having been a general manager, I understand the fears of not wanting to put a multimillion-dollar player at risk of injury because it could potentially ruin your season before it’s begun, but I just don’t think those fears are legitimate in this particular case. Nobody can honestly say a WBC game would cause an injury any more than a spring training game would.
In fact, all of the issues we seem to have about the Classic don’t seem to be much of an issue to the teams in Japan, Korea and Cuba. So I think we need to re-evaluate our concerns and complaints to see how legitimate they really are. I think the interest from fans and media is greater overseas, and that may have something to do with the general attitudes toward the tournament.
It also may have a little to do with the fact that it’s “our game,” and we don’t feel we have to prove our superiority. But actually, maybe we do when you consider that Japan won the last WBC and Korea took the 2008 Olympic gold medal. I think it’s time for the U.S. to restate its position in the baseball world by winning the WBC.
I’d like to see all the world’s best players there. Japan sent its best players in the middle of their regular season to represent their country at the Olympics. I don’t think Major League Baseball would ever even consider doing that.
I think the preseason is the best time of year for the WBC. To interrupt the regular season when it’s not necessary doesn’t make sense and the end of the season, when players are naturally run down, doesn’t work, either. The players are at their freshest in the spring and you can always get them properly prepared for the competition when you know it’s coming.
You can find points and counterpoints around almost every issue, but in the end, if we are serious about growing the game internationally and have a real sense of pride in our place in the baseball world, the teams and players should do everything they can to support the WBC.
Even if there were a minuscule risk of increased injury — and I don’t believe there is — the global benefits that the game of baseball gains from the World Baseball Classic would far outweigh those risks.