Saturday, March 28, 2009

World Baseball Classic 2009: A Look Back at Team USA

World Baseball Classic 2009: A Look Back at Team USA

I'm one of those who really enjoy the WBC. TV ratings were up this year from last (see here), but still not quite as high as they should be in America. I stayed up and watched all of the USA's games, and a a lot of the other countries games as well. The built-in drama makes for great television. Watching the Netherlands beat the Dominican or America's bottom of the ninth come back against Puerto Rico for a walk off win to stave off elimination are absolutely thrilling.

The world wide popularity of the Classic is indisputable. The television viewership in Japan shattered records, ending up with a 37.8 TV rating (compared to our domestic ratings, which averaged out to a 1.3, still up from last year). At least twice as many people tuned in to the Classic as the Super Bowl (worldwide, that is). Hell, even Castro started writing opinion pieces on it.

So, why isn't the Classic on in every home in America? Certainly the sentiment of national pride is still prevalent in this post-911 America, and you'd think the opportunity to prove our dominance in America's past time would be a prime time smash. As it stands, Team USA was barely able to sell out Dodger Stadium for an elimination game.

The problem, I think, lies within the team itself. Where the other countries are fielding their best possible teams, America is not. Albert Pujols, Miggy Cabrera, Ichiro, and Jose Reyes are all top tier at their position, and they all played for their respective countries. I understand the limitations that come with playing in the Classic. I understand that injury risks, need to get work in in spring training, rehabbing, and being new to a Major League baseball team make it increasingly difficult to sign up for a roster spot on your country's team. But, let's just do a hypothetical here. I'm going to right out the best possible team that America could field, and we'll see how many of them actually played (players that played in the classic are in BOLD):

1b. Ryan Howard
1b(b). Mark Teixeira
2b. Ian Kinsler
2b(b). Dustin Pedroia
3b. David Wright
3b(b). Evan Longoria
SS. Jimmy Rollins
SS(b). Derek Jeter
C. Joe Mauer
C(b). Brian McCann
RF. Ryan Braun
RF(b). BJ Upton
CF. Josh Hamilton
CF(b). Grady Sizemore
LF. Matt Holliday
LF(b.)Carl Crawford
SP. Jake Peavy
SP. Josh Beckett
SP. Roy Halladay
SP. Tim Lincecum
SP. Brandon Webb
SP. C. C. Sabathia
RP. Joel Zumaya
RP. Jonathan Papelbon
RP. Joba Chamberlain
RP. Brian Fuentes
RP. BJ Ryan
BENCH: Michael Young
BENCH: Matt Kemp
BENCH: Cole Hamels

The team we fielded wasn't nearly this good. I'm also aware that Sizemore was originally supposed to be on the team. And, yes, I'm also aware that this team would be impossible to field. I've mentioned all the constraints involved here, and some of these guys definitely fall victim to them. But you get the picture. We could have a much stronger team.

The other problem with the team, of course, is that they treat the games like exhibitions. When Peavy was getting beat down by Puerto Rico, Davey Johnson left him in. Why? “Just basically let him get a little more work,” Davey Johnson explained. If we treat these games like practice, we will never win. The same thing happened with Roy Oswalt against Japan in the elimination game. Oswalt was getting shelled and Johnson just stuck with him, no real reason other than that Houston expects Oswalt to get some work in. And when he does go to the bullpen, Johnson still often picked the wrong guys situationally, one assumes so they could "get some work in" as well.

These handcuffs that Johnson was working with really handicapped the team. It both killed all momentum at times when it seemed the tide could turn, or sometimes completely stunted the team from the get go (like in the mercy-rule loss to Puerto Rico). If we ever really want to compete and win, we need to rectify these issues. Field the best team possible and play these games like the mean something, like our country's pride is at stake. The only problem is: how do we do that?

Unfortunately, I have no good answers for that one.

- Jordan M.
Sulphur Springs, TX

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