Saturday, May 7, 2011

Despite U.S. loss, WBC hardly a disappointment

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Despite U.S. loss, WBC hardly a disappointment

In much the same way as David Stern didn't shed a tear the first time his NBA "Dream Team" fell in Olympic competition, the loss sent a signal to the rest of the world that baseball is a global game that can be played competitively (and marketed effectively).

"I am more confident than ever that long after I'm done being commissioner, this event was the necessary and critical first step to taking baseball international," Selig said earlier this month.

The U.S. didn't need a strong showing in the WBC to fuel an interest in baseball. People in this country are fans of their favorite teams (and increasingly, their favorite players), so there was no real damage to national pride when the favored American squad failed to get out of the second round.

However, it's a different story for the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Japan and Korea. Maybe their talent wasn't as good, top to bottom, as the USA's, but the common denominator among the four semifinalists is that they all played together longer than the U.S. team that was assembled only after major league clubs reported to spring training.

Though the Dominicans also featured a ton of players from the grandes ligas, many of them have spent time together in winter ball and in the annual Caribbean World Series. You can bet Miguel Tejada and Ronnie Belliard have turned a few double plays in their time.

The pool with Japan and Korea began the tourney a week earlier than the other teams. Add in the exhibition games they were able to play against major league clubs before Round 2 and it's no surprise they were so sharp. The reason the Cubans looked in midseason form is ... well, they are. Their regular season has already begun.

"I think it's a great idea to help globalize baseball," said Team USA's Derrek Lee. "Some of the best competition in the world is on display in this tournament so I think it's a good idea."

To a man, the players who took part seemed to enjoy the star-studded experience.

"Most of us have been in All-Star Games before," infielder Michael Young said before the tourney began. "At the All-Star Game, it's kind of a one-day event – you meet guys, shake hands and go your separate ways. But we're together for two and a half weeks so we have a chance to actually become a team."

Through no fault of its own, the U.S. just didn't become a team as quickly as the others did. Just look at all the breaks the Americans needed even to be in contention:

•A first-round tiebreaker allowed the U.S. to advance over a Canadian squad that beat them 8-6.

•A blown call by an umpire against Japan erased the go-ahead run in the eighth inning of a game the Americans went on to win 4-3 in the ninth.

•Another blown umpire's call turned an obvious home run for Mexico into a double in Thursday's finale.

Take away a 17-0 rout of South Africa and the U.S. hit just .154 (6-for-39) in the tournament with runners in scoring position. You're just not going to win when you do that, even if you send the best pitcher in all of baseball to the mound for your elimination game.

Roger Clemens could have been speaking for his U.S. team as well as himself when he addressed his possible retirement after the 2-1 loss to Mexico.

"For now, it's goodbye," he said.

So now baseball's world championship will have a team from the Far East taking on a team from Latin America.

A disappointment? Depends on the measuring stick.

The fans seemed to enjoy it. In Puerto Rico, the park was noisy and spirited. First-round crowds were good in Arizona and Florida. Over 35,000 evenly split fans were at Angel Stadium for the U.S.-Mexico finale.

In another four years, the first-time bugs will have been eliminated.

The talent will still be there. The critics probably won't.


Steve Gardner is's baseball editor. You can send him feedback at

Powered By | Full Text RSS Feed | Amazon Plugin | Hud Settlement Statement

View the original article here


Post a Comment