Friday, March 17, 2006

WBC Update

  • The World Baseball Classic is catching on in the U.S. I don't have any solid figures on TV ratings, attendance, or suchlike, but early returns are positive for the WBC. What happens, it seems, is that the energy and enthusiasm from the Caribbean fans rubbed off. It's been a modest victory, but a victory nonetheless in a country otherwise preoccupied with NCAA Basketball.
  • Team USA was eliminated from the WBC yesterday with a 2-1 loss to Mexico. This should hurt the event among USA fans, but it's quite a boon internationally. It's an upset by an underdog, which is always a good story that excites people. The semi-finals take place tomorrow, with the Dominican Republic .vs. Cuba in the afternoon and Korea .vs. Japan in the evening.
  • Team USA is taking a lot of criticism, and rightfully so, for their choice of players and strategies. I'm still wondering what Buck Martinez is doing managing the team, with at least 15 more qualified out-of-work managers out there. And the selection of U.S. players (not counting those that dropped out or refused to play) was quite poor. While teams such as the Dominican had a Murderer's Row out there every day, it looked like the U.S. was playing its "B" team. Several fans have asked what in the world Matt Holliday and Al Leiter were doing on a team that's supposed to be the country's best. Or what Ken Griffey, Jr. is doing as the starting center fielder. The answer seems to be that the U.S. had a much bigger interest in naming superstars to the team and spreading the talent among big league teams (you don't want 6 Yankees out there) than the other countries. Griffey was named the starting center fielder, because he's the most famous U.S. center fielder there is. Johnny Damon would be a better choice, especially on defense, but never mind. I'm guessing that the poor performance of the U.S. team will change this. The U.S. nearly got eliminated in each round of the WBC, narrowly avoiding it until losing to Mexico yesterday. There's really no reason that a team with Miguel Ojeda in the starting lineup should beat the U.S., but there you go. The U.S. got embarassed by Korea, and would have lost to Japan were it not for a controversial call in the 9th inning. This is not to knock these other teams, but to simply say that the American team should have made a much better showing. In 2009, though, when the Classic returns, I think that more American players will want to participate, based on the early positive reaction to the WBC.
  • Boy, those Caribbean fans love their baseball.
  • On another unrelated note, Bud Selig will announce soon whether or not he intends to investigate Barry Bonds. The question seems to be whether MLB will investigate, or whether an outside investigator will be brought in. There is a precedent for such an action, with the Pete Rose investigation under Commissioner Bart Giamatti. Unlike Rose, however, Bonds is just the tip of the iceberg. If Selig really wants to be the crusading commissioner, he's going to have to instruct the investigators not to confine their case to Barry Bonds alone.
  • What can actually be done to Bonds is problematic. Formal punishment for steroids didn't begin until 2002, so what Bonds did in 1998 is of less interest. Other than that, it's not clear that Bonds broke any other baseball rules. So whether or not Selig can actually suspend Bonds based on the investigation is questionable. Although this would likely change if Bonds is indicted for perjury or tax evasion. You also have to take the Player's Association into account. Any suspension or punishment will be appealed, possibly with success. Selig could end up suspending Bonds anyway, just to make a statement, even if he knows it wouldn't stand. But faced with overwhelming evidence, Selig is going to have to take a very tough stance on Bonds if he ever wants to be taken seriously again. Selig knows as well as anyone that steroids will likely be the cornerstone of his legacy, and his decisions now will strongly affect how he is viewed by history. Any softness on Bonds will be construed as either incompetence, or worse, an effort to cover up the MLB's culpability in the steroids scandal.
  • Either way, there's a lot to talk about in the baseball world these days. Opening Day is Sunday, April 2, and the games will matter no matter what happens to Barry or team USA.

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