Why The World Baseball Classic Still Has A Long Way To Go

On the morning of the 2017 World Baseball Classic finals, I’m proud to say I have not watched a single inning of the entire tournament. I have never felt the urge to change the channel. I have never felt the urge to even find the channel the tournament is being aired on. 

I am not alone. While many people enjoy the tournament (I mean hell Marlins Park was actually full for once), you’d have to be living in a state of delusion to people sports fans have onto this tournament that appears out of the blue every four years. 

Ignoring the current age dilemma the sport of baseball is currently experiencing in viewership and fan support, there are many obvious reasons why the World Baseball Classic just doesn’t work in its current format. If tournament organizers believe they can achieve the amount of prestige and attention the World Cup experiences with this tournament, they need to see a doctor. 

I don’t hate the WBC. I really don’t. I quite enjoy when region-based teams face off against each other in a tournament format. It’s why for a week each summer I become mildly interested in twelve-year-olds playing baseball. Unlike pro and college sports, where the regionalism of teams will never feel fully authentic, you can’t do anything about where you were born…in most cases. 

I like the fact that Americans have to realize they are the only country who plays baseball. Did you know the country of Japan considers the sport its country’s past time as well? Well, Japan doesn’t know America calls the sport the same thing so I guess we’re even. Same goes for many Caribbean countries like the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico who’ve adopted it the same way the US has adopted football. 

The main crux of why the WBC doesn’t and will never matter in its current format is because, after tonight, you know longer have to remind yourself who’s on Team USA’s roster for another three years and eleven months.

The fact of the matter is the World Cup is aided by the build-up to each new tournament. There is no elongated build-up for the WBC that’s anything more than a marketing ploy. Of the sixteen teams competing in this tournament, twelve automatically qualified. In the World Cup, only one team is granted an automatic qualification: the host nation.

By the way, about that, why on earth did the 2017 World Baseball Classic take place in three separate countries across two different continents? I understand expanding the footprint of the tourney should lead to the growth of it in multiple areas of the world but it simply doesn’t when there are only six venues used overall. Both semifinal games and tonight’s finals take place at Dodger Stadium. In the World Cup, those three games would be played at three different stadiums across the host nation.

The Tokyo Dome in Japan hosted twelve games for this year’s WBC. I’m pretty sure there exists more than one ballpark in entire country of Japan. You didn’t have to host every single game in one location. In fact, there are twelve teams in Japan’s top-tier baseball league; each equipped with their only baseball-specific stadium. What’s so wrong about using half of those? In fact, five of them exist in the greater Tokyo area. That’ll save on travel expenses.

Another reason why the tournament has yet to take off is the taxing nature that is the baseball calendar. From mid-February to the end of October, professional baseball is played in the United States…non-stop. Unlike soccer, another sport will a long calendar length, baseball is played every single goddamn day of the calendar. In soccer, your team plays one-to-three games, at most, per week. In baseball, your team plays six days every week, excluding the very short All-Star break, non-stop from the beginning of April to the beginning of October; not including spring training which runs from mid-February until the beginning of April.

People can’t take any more baseball during the year. Those who say they’d love for the calendar to be extended have an addiction problem. Spring training, which helps these addicts cope with not watching baseball for nearly three and a half months, helps warm up casual baseball fans. In essence, they’re warming up in the bullpen. It’s time for them to get back into the groove, memorize their team’s rotations, research their farm system, and look at the regular season schedule. 

The World Baseball Classic throws a wrench into this. Casual baseball fans aren’t in late-October shape in mid-March. It’s jarring. Nearly all sports fans are getting ready for the NCAA Tournament or deep into the NBA /NHL season. The few remaining fans of baseball who aren’t retired don’t have time to get readjusted to the sport that quickly. There’s no build-up. It just appears out of the blue on…was it on ESPN2 at all? I know it was probably on the MLB Network but that’s the only network I can be sure of.

Knowing that MLB owners would never relinquish any regular season games for this tournament (they need as much TV revenue as possible before networks begin to wise up and realize MLB could easily be the 4th-5th most important pro league in North America in a decade), the tournament needs to move to the end of fall. The WBC should be played two-three weeks after the World Series concludes. Get it in before people start seriously paying attention to the NBA/NHL and before the NFL postseason push starts. 

It took two weeks this time around for the WBC to be played. The World Series (sadly) finished on November 2nd. If the first game of the WBC was played on November 12th, the tournament would have its semifinals and finals during Thanksgiving weekend. With the NFL dominating Thanksgiving on the 24th, the WBC could make the weekend after Thanksgiving there crowning jewel to cap off the baseball calendar. Casual fans will still have baseball on their mind. Most baseball players will have at least a month off to rest. 

The World Baseball Classic simply doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. In its current format, it won’t ever garner the support it is looking for. Given the relatively small footprint of nations that play the sport of baseball, the tournament only has so much room to expand. With such a small field of teams that never change, it’ll begin to stagnate.

How about taking a cue from the Little League World Series. Expand the tournament by dividing up its current participants. Divide countries like the United States and Japan into region-based teams. A year prior to the WBC, or during spring training, have even smaller region-based teams compete for these spots in the same way European nations qualify for UEFA’s spots in the World Cup. Have California face off against Florida. The Pacific Northwest versus New England. Hokkaido versus Kansai. Kanto versus Chugoku. Western Canada versus Ontario. One area of the Dominican Republic versus the other area of the Dominican Republic. 

This would make WBC more interesting. It would elongate how long it’s in the public spotlight. Until the World Baseball Classic makes some changes, it has a long way to go before it earns its relevance.