WBC is good but could be better

Published 11:45 pm Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I’m rooting for the World Baseball Classic to work. At first glance, with stars switching nations, again, and a lot of players, especially big ticket pitchers, pulling out, the Classic seems to be struggling.

I’m a big fan of international soccer, with worldwide mega-events like the World Cup and Europe’s Champions League being the prime examples most American sports fans might be at least a bit familiar with.

The World Cup started as a mess. In 1930 and 1934, the world’s primary soccer-playing nations didn’t take the fledging bother of a tournament seriously. The only European nations in the 1930 Cup were France, Romania and Belgium.

Email newsletter signup

In 1934, the USA beat an amateur-level squad from Mexico, the defending champs from 1930, Uruguay, didn’t play in ’34 and there were still no teams from the British Isles.

Looking at it this way, the World Baseball Classic is light years ahead of the first two World Cups. The tournament is already better and more entertaining than the Olympic tournaments which have now been deemed extinct.

Tweaks are all that’s needed to have the WBC become a more legitimate event. First, when a player, say A-Rod, plays for a nation, he’s locked into that nation.

All things considered, that any Major League players play in the WBC at all is a testament to the pros who take it on ahead of a six- or seven-month-long season, the one they make their living on.

The professional soccer world has, not no, but fairly few, problems when it comes to the best players playing for their nations at major tournaments. Qualifying for a quadrennial World Cup goes on nearly three years in advance of the big final tournament.

Baseball isn’t played in 200 or more nations, so three years isn’t needed, but the WBC could take a lesson. Play the preliminary rounds of the 2009 World Baseball Classic in 2008. Get from the 16 teams, and hopefully more in decades to come, down to the final eight in 2008.

The key here is to play as many WBC games as possible when players are at their peak performance, which is never going to be in February and March.

Play group-stage games, two for each nation, over Memorial Day weekend, the All-Star Break and right after the World Series. This equals six games per team in four groups of four. The top two in each group advance to 2009.

The finals are best-of-three series with the quarterfinals over Memorial Day, the semis at the All-Star Break and the finals in November (presumably in a dome, San Diego, Miami or Phoenix).

This format would equal more games for each team in the tournament, to make the tourney slightly closer to a competition resembling baseball, at least to the point in which one loss isn’t fatal.

Sure, some players would still bow out, but at least the guys who do play would be ready to pitch more than two or three innings and would be in midseason form.