‘The sickest tournament ever’: Why this WBC could make history
AS TEAM USA lifted the World Baseball Classic trophy in 2017, Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout felt FOMO overwhelm him.
“They looked like they were having so much fun playing and winning,” said Trout, who watched on TV from spring training camp in Tempe, Arizona. “That’s what I regretted. I should have been there.”
The fourth World Baseball Classic was a major milestone for the United States as the host country of the event won an international tournament for the first time. From catching Adam Jones with a home run that sent the US to the semi-finals, to Marcus Stroman’s six no-hit innings against Puerto Rico in the championship game that earned him MVP awards, the Americans have delivered iconic results.
The victory also marked a sea of change in how American players feel about the event. Trout announced at the 2022 All-Star Game that he would compete in the WBC and serve as captain, and his inclusion caused a domino effect.
“We don’t split the field very often,” said Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts, who was influenced by Trout’s decision. “So playing on the same side with him and all the other guys is going to be really fun.”
For many other American players such as Philadelphia shortstop Phillis Trea Turner, the international hype and the hype around last year’s World Cup, the final drew 25.78 million viewers on Fox and Telemundo, the most watched men’s World Cup game in American history. – the desire to wear the US national team jersey.
“Everyone wants to try it,” Turner said. “If you can do it in your sport, that’s cool too.”
Such excitement has long been the standard for other international teams, including among MLB players. But American players have at times been less enthusiastic.
In 2017, then-New York Mets ace Noah Sindergaard showed active disdain for the event.
“No one gets into the Hall of Fame or wins the World Series while playing in the WBC,” Sindergaard said.
This attitude irritated those not in the United States. A dozen players – three Americans and nine internationals – told Sportzshala on condition of anonymity that the reluctance of some American stars to compete in previous WBCs prevented the event.
“Players from Japan, players from Puerto Rico, players from many countries came out and showed their best, because the World Baseball Classic is important to them,” said one of the Israeli team players. “Many of the best American players saw themselves as bigger than the WBC.”
But there is a sense that things are changing. As usual, 2023 will feature the biggest international stars such as Japan’s Shohei Otani, Dominican Republic’s Juan Soto and Puerto Rico’s Francisco Lindor, but the tournament will feature 20 teams instead of 16. Team USA has built its 2017 championship squad , and this year it will be captained by Trout, an icon of a generation that includes three MVPs – Trout, Betts and Paul Goldschmidt – and 20 All-Stars. His starting line-up may be the best ever put together, with just 57 All-Star Games and five MVP trophies on the roster, the most for an American team in the WBC since the first tournament in 2006.
As the fifth WBC tournament, delayed by two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, kicks off, baseball clubs come to life. Fan excitement also peaks when one Facebook group is dedicated to the event. involving nearly 145,000 people from all over the world, dissecting the tournament.
The enthusiasm surrounding this WBC is of particular interest to Major League Baseball, which has made the event a centerpiece of its growing international ambitions. The league envisions the tournament becoming a global phenomenon like the World Cup. And with a potentially historic group of players – especially on Team USA – the league believes the 2023 WBC will help fuel interest in Major League Baseball around the world like never before.
DESPITE THE FOCUS this spring, to attract a younger national audience, Major League Baseball’s biggest growth area is not in the United States. It’s in the rest of the world.
“Global growth is a huge driver of our business, and to our strategic goals and lines of business, that’s what matters most,” said MLB director of operations and strategy Chris Marinak. “Mexico is a large market that we believe has shown great growth potential. Asian countries, Japan, Korea, there are a number of countries that, in our opinion, are very important in order to make themselves known in this market. growth opportunities in these markets.”
This issue came to the fore in Major League Baseball in the 1990s. Baseball became an official Olympic sport in 1992, but only for amateurs, and it gradually disappeared before being eliminated entirely after the 2008 Games. This meant the league needed to find the best way to lend a helping hand.
But unlike football, basketball, and hockey, where playing for the US national team represents one of the pinnacles of the sport, international baseball has never had such weight. Teams such as the 1992 U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team or the 1980 Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team “Miracle on Ice” are iconic and there is no international equivalent in baseball.
MLB executives knew that the spectacle of international games could attract fans.
“And we also knew that there was nothing like the baseball world championship,” said MLB senior vice president Jim Small, who oversees the WBC.
By Labor Day 1999, the league’s offices drew up a business plan for the World Baseball Classic, approved by then commissioner Bud Selig. Team owners saw the potential of the event and joined in, and over the next six years, MLB worked to convince other leagues such as Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, Cuba’s National Series, and South Korea’s KBO to allocate time in their schedules for the tournament. . In 2006, the WBC started with 16 teams.
For the MLB Classic, it represents one of the biggest opportunities for fans around the world to see their country’s stars take on the best from other countries. It is hoped that such a high level of competition, not to mention national pride, will cause fans around the world to invest more in MLB star players and most likely get carried away by Major League Baseball itself.
“America is the only country in the world where the biggest sporting event is club against club, not country against country,” Small said. “We are moving in that direction.”
“With fan expectations in mind, especially on TikTok and Instagram, we are looking for those standout moments that you don’t see on a regular basis, and that’s what the WBC is,” Marinak said. “We want the biggest stars to face the biggest stars, Shohei Ohtani facing Mike Trout. These are the moments that the public has been drawn to since the last World Cup in 2017. This gives the game more room to showcase around the world.”
But after an initial wave of enthusiasm, the United States struggled, posting a 10-10 record ahead of the 2017 tournament. In 2013, the event was almost invisible at home, with only 843,000 people watching the championship game on the MLB Network, a million fewer viewers than the average for an NBA regular season game that year. For some American players, this event does not give much advantage. If they win, they will do what is expected of them. If they don’t, there’s potential embarrassment.
“We have to remember that this is pretty new,” said Goldschmidt, who played for the US national team for the first time in 2017. “Every time we did it, the guys felt more comfortable. play.”
Winning is a big motivator. As the 2017 American team embarked on an exciting road to winning their first World Baseball Classic title, interest in the United States has grown. The WBC received 32% more American viewers than in 2013, with 2.3 million people connecting to the MLB network to watch the final. MLB executives expect an increase in American viewership at the 2023 WBC with games available on Fox.
But the tournament still faces obstacles.
Many MLB teams put up with the existence of the event, knowing that it could help the game grow, but remain concerned about its potential risk. But for many front offices, according to team sources, that doesn’t justify the risk of a serious injury jeopardizing the team’s chance of winning the World Series. This is in stark contrast to the World Cup, where players become immortal international legends as they lead their team to victory, from Pelé to Lionel Messi to Kylian Mbappe.
In some cases, this is due to the lack of standardized insurance coverage that FIFA provides to club teams whose players compete in these competitions. The insurance cover will protect teams from having to pay a player for time missed due to an injury in a tournament.
Miguel Cabrera was considered uninsured due to his injuries, but he signed on for the game anyway thanks to the Detroit Tigers’ endorsement. But Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who was scheduled to play for Team USA, was forced to pull out after he was deemed uninsured.
“It was very disappointing,” Kershaw said. “I’m sad. I really wanted to do it.”
For a team like the Dodgers aiming for the World Series, it’s hard to justify the risk to a star pitcher’s season. But his absence helps explain why, despite the fact that more star players are suitable for the US team, the serving remains the biggest weakness of the Americans. For many American pitchers who are nearing a major contract or are already making big money to become an ace in a World Series contender, entering a World Baseball Classic is too far.
“Risk doesn’t seem to matter for Sandy Alcantara or Shohei Otani. They have something to lose, as well as the next player, ”said Mets supply Adam Ottavino, who will play for the US national team. “But the importance of the tournament has to be very strong before you see Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer or…