By Andrew Zuhosky
Major League Baseball is back, baby! Sure, it’s only a week into Spring Training, but wasn’t it nice to watch footage of home runs, strikeouts, and close calls at the plate in live games this week?
This year’s Spring Training is a little different than the last three years. On Monday, the fourth World Baseball Classic will begin with the initial pool play games of the tournament.
The national teams of 16 countries will play in this event, with qualification for the tournament working like this:
For a team to have qualified for this year’s World Baseball Classic, it must have either won at least one pool play game in the 2013 WBC or have won a qualifying tournament in 2016 after placing in the bottom of a pool play group in 2013.
By virtue of winning their respective qualifiers, the national teams for Colombia and Israel will make their first-ever WBC appearances.
Games will be played in cities all over the world, ranging from Seoul, South Korea and Tokyo, Japan to San Diego and Los Angeles.
At the end of the tournament, the final will be contested at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, March 22. All WBC games will be televised in English on MLB Network and in Spanish on ESPN Deportes in the United States.
Depending on several factors, the fourth incarnation of the WBC may also prove to be the final one.
Back in November, shortly after this year’s tournament schedule was announced, R.J. Anderson, a baseball writer for cbssports.com, wrote a story about how the WBC may be discontinued following this year, citing a tweet from ESPN’s Cristian Moreno.
According to Moreno in his tweet, sources informed him this year’s WBC might be the tournament’s swan song “unless legit $$$ earnings come.”
In addition, Anderson noted in his article, “While the pretense of the WBC is twofold — to spread the game of baseball and hand out bragging rights through a spirited tournament — the bottom line is, well, the bottom line. Major League Baseball might be making insane profits, but it’s not going to spend money just to spend money.”
Another factor that might contribute to the fate of the WBC beyond this year is the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.
As you know, the International Olympic Committee added both baseball and softball back into the lineup of events for the Summer Olympics beginning in 2020 at a meeting last year just prior to the start of the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Baseball and softball were last played as official Olympic events during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Current Major Leaguers are probably not going to give up their seasons in 2020 to play Olympic baseball. It’s just not going to happen for any reason.
On the other side of the coin, the Olympic baseball contests in three years could act as a proving ground for the next Buster Posey, Mike Napoli or Edwin Encarnacion.
Getting back to the WBC for a moment, the timing of the event during Spring Training concerns me.
If a premier MLB player on a contending team gets badly injured in a pool play contest and is sidelined for the rest of the season, you have to wonder if something like the WBC is really worth it. Think about it for a minute.
It’s like in the bowl season in college football when we heard stories of players sitting out their school’s bowl game to avoid injury as they looked toward the NFL Draft.
The WBC is a fantastic tournament. If Major League Baseball were to schedule it in July every four years and not schedule the All-Star Game in WBC years, it would be a better deal.