- Grove City, Pennsylvania

February 13, 2013

EXTRA INNINGS: Selig's dumbest move? World Baseball Classic

By Jim Sankey
Allied News Baseball Columnist

OPINION — THE HARDEST job in the world? The biographer who tries to determine Allan H. “Bud” Selig’s dumbest move while baseball commissioner. So many to choose from … how do you ever find just one?

The nomination from this column is Selig’s creation of the World Baseball Classic, supposedly designed to grow baseball internationally.

Scheduled to be played every four years, 2013 is the third “classic” that this year will feature 39 games to be played in seven stadiums in four countries from March 2-19.

Japan is the two-time defending champion, having won each of the first two events in 2006 and 2009.

The semifinals and finals will take place March 17-19 in San Francisco. Second-round games will be from March 12-16 in Miami and Tokyo, while first-round games are in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Ariz. From March 2-11.

Yes, those two and one-half weeks are smack dab in the middle of the major league’s spring training. Good timing, Bud.

Players on MLB teams play for the country of their ethnic origin. And while players especially from Latin countries take great pride in representing their country, interest among USA baseball fans has been underwhelming. Angels first baseman Albert Pujols recently said he wanted to play for his native Dominican Republic, despite still recovering from knee surgery, despite his $16 million paycheck this year and $23 million next year en route to a 10-year, $250 million deal.

Meanwhile, baseball fans in the USA are more interested in our professional teams’ preparations for the upcoming major league season and view the World Baseball Classic as hindering what we care about—the major-league season.

It is a distraction from the solidification and evaluation of the professional season, interference which hurts marginal players, who spend time away from those whose evaluations will determine their baseball futures.

Eight Pittsburgh players are on the tentative list of players to be finalized next week: left-handed starter Wandy Rodriguez of the Dominican Republic, closer Jason Grilli of Italy, and catcher Russell Martin and pitchers Chris Leroux and Jameson Taillon of Canada. (Taillon is a Texas native, but under Selig’s logic—pardon the oxymoron—eligible to represent Canada since his parents were born in Toronto.)

Catcher Ali Solis (Mexico), infielder Ivan De Jesus (Puerto Rico), and shortstop Stefan Welch (Australia) also have been named.

So how do you feel about the anointed closer, the number two starting pitcher, the $17 million catcher, and a future pitching stud risking injury to help “grow baseball internationally”?

How do you think Milwaukee feels about seeing 14 Brewers go to the event?

Recently-retired Chipper Jones, who played in both 2006 and 2009, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution those two stints were enough.

“Just way too many days off,” he said. “We stayed in Toronto for a week and played three games. You’re not getting the work in that you should. You’re getting reps, but you’re not getting the at-bats that you need. Getting to share a clubhouse with the guys and getting to know people on a different level is the cool part about it. But when you’re talking about a three-week tournament, and you could literally play [only] eight games in three weeks, it’s just too much down time for spring training.”

Jones gets it, unlike Yankee first baseman Kevin Youkilis, surprised by the ho-hum attendance figures for Team USA’s games in 2009, doesn’t.

“I don't think [the fans] have enough pride in this,” Youkilis told The Boston Herald in 2009. “It's kind of a sad day when you see that. I don't think there's as much pride in the USA as there is for these other countries. There was a whole section of Dominican fans just here to watch baseball. I think we're losing a little bit of pride.”

No, Kevin…we just don’t care.

If it is so important, then schedule it for November, not in the spring, when an injury to a key player in a meaningless game could affect his team’s entire season.

Bud strikes again.