Baseball needs World Baseball Classic

Sports writer Jude Franco discusses the widespread discourse about the tournament

The 2023 World Baseball Classic was everything we could have hoped and dreamt for. Despite its seven-year delay, it was well worth the wait. From nail-biting matchups to displays of good sportsmanship to an electrician striking out the best player in baseball in the world. To cap it all off we saw a matchup for the ages to bring the tournament to a close: Japan’s captain, two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani vs. USA’s captain, 5-tool center fielder Mike Trout who stood in the way of Japan’s title. Ohtani would go on to strike out his Angels teammate to secure Japan’s third title since the first two installments of the WBC in 2006 and 2009. It is safe to say this is the best World Baseball Classic to date and that baseball needs this tournament especially at a time where MLB and its commissioner Rob Manfred are looking to grow the game.

However, some believe otherwise, saying the tournament should never be played. The reason being the injuries inflicted among some players, the biggest being Edwin Diaz. Diaz, 29, is coming off the best year of his career as the New York Mets closer, posting a 1.31 ERA, with 118 strikeouts, in 62 innings pitched and 32 saves. He represented his home country of Puerto Rico and came into the game per his usual role in the ninth inning looking to protect Puerto Rico’s 5-2 lead against a stacked Dominican Republic team. Diaz did what he does best striking out the side helping Puerto Rico advance to the quarter-finals and the celebration commenced on the field. Diaz was in the middle of the celebration as his teammates huddled and jumped around him until the celebration came to a screeching halt. Players backed away and started calling for help from Puerto Rico’s dugout when Diaz emerged to be sitting on the floor grasping his right knee. He eventually had to be carried off the field and put in a wheelchair. The next day it was announced that he had torn his patellar tendon and was ruled out for the 2023 season. The Mets had just signed Diaz to a massive contract in the offseason for $102 million for five years, now the Mets are without their closer for the year and are still looking to find one.

The World Baseball Classic began to gain backlash, the games being called “meaningless exhibition games” as fans saw their star players getting hurt in something that doesn’t involve the team that is paying them. To make matters worse, just four days later Houston Astros all star second baseman Jose Altuve broke his thumb on a hit-by-pitch while representing Venezuela against USA’s relief pitcher Daniel Bard and has been ruled out indefinitely. Mets and Astros fans watching their players get injured has sparked more outrage among the baseball community. The next day during a press conference with Angel’s center fielder Mike Trout and Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts, who both represented team USA, addressed their thoughts on the Diaz injury and backed up what they believed about the WBC. Trout states, “You know there’s obviously risk involved, you’re still playing baseball in Spring Training. Being part of this atmosphere, it’s special, it means a lot to me. I knew going in it was going to be a fun time but I never knew it was going to be this fun.” Betts followed up Trout’s statement by saying, “Those things can happen to anyone at any given time, you can always try and place blame on the WBC but you know that a freak accident that can happen to anyone.” The statement by Betts is true, during the beginning of spring training, Dodgers shortstop Gavin Lux suffered a torn ACL in his right leg running from second to third while trying to avoid the throw from the third baseman and has been ruled out for the 2023 season. Rhys Hoskins, the Philadelphia Phillies slugging first baseman, also just recently experienced a torn ACL in Thursday’s Spring Training match against the Tigers and is out for the season.

Whether it is the World Baseball Classic or Spring Training, injury is a threat to any player no matter what. Canceling the World Baseball Classic would be a terrible thing to do and is not a solution to preventing injury. Especially at a time where Major League Baseball is trying to figure out how to grow the game and make it more action packed, baseball needs this event in order to flourish. The championship game between the United States and Japan gained over 6.5 million views, which was a 69% increase from the 2017 WBC championship between the United States and Puerto Rico. Even more shocking, South Korea vs Japan, a rivalry that is filled with history even with the tournament still being fairly new, gained over 62 million viewers. Games saw a 20% increase in attendance as the event accumulated over one million fans. This is everything the MLB wants and needs, now they just need to find out how to translate it into MLB games. The answer is not a pitch clock, wider bases or banning the defensive shift, it is the World Baseball Classic as it markets itself well naturally, while drawing the attention of fans from all around the world. Major League Baseball struggles to market itself and reach certain audiences, but with a little help from the WBC, showcasing some of MLB’s finest talent on the global stage can certainly help grow the game. It will be interesting to see how the WBC could possibly affect future MLB events. But until 2026, we won’t be seeing another pitch thrown in a World Baseball Classic, so all MLB and its commissioner Rob Manfred can hope for is an increase in viewership and attendance until they have a better idea of what to do with the game of baseball.

Post Author: Jude Franco