by Julian Spivey
Nearly two weeks into the 2017 World Baseball Classic the tournament has been thrilling as hell with numerous close games and great play from some of the greatest players in the world. However, despite the terrific play on the field the continued feeling of “the World Baseball Classic just doesn’t interest American baseball fans” has been bandied about quite a bit online, especially social media.
Simply put, it’s hard for me to believe one could be a great baseball fan and not have thoroughly enjoyed the on-field product of the pool play during the tournament’s first two weeks. After all, it’s baseball that’s played at a high level and means something at a time where the only other baseball is Spring Training to prepare for the Major League Baseball season.
But, even though the actual games have been great I know the reason why many American fans don’t care so much for the tournament – it’s because the United States doesn’t have a chance at winning and they never have won the tournament. Americans don’t tend to enjoy things dominated by non-Americans. Hence many act like the World Baseball Classic is a waste of time or a joke, when in all actuality, it’s a great tournament.
Who should we blame for the American fan’s lack of interest in the WBC? Should it be the fans themselves? I think that’s a bit too easy and wrongheaded. I think the actual blame comes down to the American players. I salute players like Adam Jones, Buster Posey, Daniel Murphy, Andrew McCutchen and others who suit up to represent their country, but the fact is many of the best American players aren’t in the tournament.
Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant, Josh Donaldson, Mookie Betts are all considered among the top 10 players in the game per MLB Network’s recent rankings. Yet, none of these players are on Team USA. More importantly for the roster is it doesn’t feature Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Max Scherzer or really any starting pitcher that puts the fear of God into the opposing hitters. So, the United States ends up with Marcus Stroman giving up six consecutive hits and four runs before a single out is even recorded against a Puerto Rican team filled with All Stars.
Jose Altuve, Miguel Cabrera and Manny Machado are also listed in the MLB’s 10 best players by the MLB Network, all three of those players suited up for their respective countries. As did Robinson Cano, Adrian Gonzalez, Felix Hernandez, Adrian Beltre, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa and more. The lineups from other teams in the event, particularly from South American or Caribbean countries are a who’s who from those nations. And, because of this the WBC isn’t the Olympic basketball tournament where the Americans could show up 12 of their B-level stars and still take gold. They need their best to compete and win.
This is proof that players from other countries simply care more about representing their homelands more than players from America, who are either too worried about injury, their money or other reasons to suit it up for the red, white and blue. This lack of enthusiasm for performing for their country leaves American baseball fans less than excited. Many realize pitchers like Stroman, Tanner Roark and Drew Smyly, who likely isn’t even one of the 30 best American starting pitchers in the MLB, aren’t going to win multiple games against lineups like the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico so they don’t tune into these games, many of which aren’t ending until 1 or 2 a.m. in their time zones despite being played mostly in America (another key issue the WBC needs to fix).
When the American superstars like Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout start giving a damn about representing their country then their country will be competitive enough to compete and then the American fans the tournament really needs to thrive will show up.