Saturday, March 16, 2013

Newsletter Extra: Perceived Problems and Actual Problems

The United States was eliminated from the World Baseball Classic last night by Puerto Rico 4-3. The loss means that the U.S. misses the semifinal round for the second time in three Classics, a result that has caused a substantial amount of hand-wringing this morning.

That the U.S. has not shown well in three WBCs is a perceived problem, not an actual one. The WBC isn't about showing what nation is the best at baseball. The design and timing of the event should make that abundantly clear. If you were serious about a global baseball tournament, you wouldn't hold the thing in March and you wouldn't play one-game round-robins and you really wouldn't invite China and Brazil and you wouldn't tell pitching-short teams they could only use their best pitchers for 65 pitches. The WBC's current design is like the MLB postseason, only much worse for gathering useful information about the relative quality of teams. Since the baseball media can't get their hands around the uselessness of a best-of-seven for determining relative quality, it's probably too much to expect them to not draw conclusions from a single game between the U.S. and D.R., or between the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

So we get this perceived problem of the United States not showing well in the World Baseball Classic. If there's one thing MLB does with passion and aggression, it's address perceived problems, be it pushing for increased penalties for positive drug tests despite a well-functioning testing program, or adding a ridiculous incentive to prop up the decaying All-Star Game, or introducing a one-game playoff round out of a sense of embarrassment that teams acted in their own self-interest in a division race. MLB loves fixing that which isn't really broken in an effort to placate a media completely unwilling to address complex, multi-faceted issues in all but the most simple of terms.

I make this prediction against that backdrop. The United States team at the 2017 World Baseball Classic will include almost all of the best American players at that time. The perceived failure of the U.S. team will cause the league and Bud Selig to place undue pressure on the game's stars -- most likely with a healthy dose of MLBPA-bashing -- to participate in the event regardless of how the players or their teams believe it may affect their preparation for the season. The perceived problem of the U.S. not showing well at the WBC  will be addressed by a faux solution that does nothing about the WBC's issues of timing and format.

The WBC is a marketing event, not a championship event. Anyone taking more than nine seconds to look at the thing -- held in March, including nations that absolutely suck at baseball but are included for their potential as markets, seeded in comical fashion, with far too few games to carry legitimacy -- can see that. Rather than address those problems, or better still, acknowledge that it's a marketing event, MLB will, in the grand tradition of the Coin Flip Game and "This Time It Counts", take the easy way out and raise up the issue of American player participation as the event's biggest problem. The 2017 U.S. team will be the best ever in the history of the World Baseball Classic.

And the WBC will still be a marketing event, not a championship one.