World Baseball Classic: Which Team Really Rules?

by Suzie Raven

Japan can say it has the best professional baseball team in the world. Wait, but didn’t the Philadelphia Phillies win the 2008 World Series? Yes, but Japan won the World Baseball Classic (WBC) for the second time in a row on March 23.

I’ve been a die-hard Phillies fan all my life, so I’m the last person to try to steal their thunder or say another team is better. However, I can still recognize that the Toronto Blue Jays presence in Major League Baseball hardly makes a series between the Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays a “World” Series. The World Series hasn’t been international since the Blue Jays played the Phillies in 1993, but the WBC actually features all-star teams from around the world.

The WBC is a chance to see famous players from Major League Baseball (MLB) like Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox play, but also watch countries like Panama and the Netherlands compete. Then, it throws in it’s own unique drama, like injuries to Pedroia and Chipper Jones (of the Atlanta Braves) that upset their regular season coaches. One of my favorites was the tension of watching Red Sox star pitcher Daisuke ("Dice-K") Matsuzaka start for Japan in the semi-final game against the United States. Dice-K and Japan won that game, eliminating the chances of the U.S. for a world title.

For avid baseball fans anxiously waiting Opening Day (April 6th), the WBC provides a fix of competitive baseball and new teams to watch. Who knew the Netherlands is good enough to beat the Dominican Republic twice and nearly beat Venezuela and Puerto Rico?

The WBC obviously does not have the same fervent international following as soccer's World Cup. A near sell out of Dodger Stadium for the final game was considered a success because it means the event is growing. I’m not even mad the U.S. didn’t win — I’d rather just see the WBC take off even more by the next series in 2013. Besides, my Phillies are still World Series Champions.

(For another view of the WBC, please see: "Fidel Catro, Baseball Writer.")

(The photo of Japan beating China in the first round of the 2009 World Baseball Classic is from Cuba's Escambray, a provincial newspaper. As all of Cuba's newspapers are state-owned, the photo is in the public domain.)

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PJ Kehres said...

The problem with the WBC is that baseball is too nuanced a game to have a champion decided by a tournament where a few flukey wins can place you in the finals. In football or even basketball, the best teams will almost always beat the weaker teams. In baseball, the probability is much higher that a weak team can get hot and beat the best team. baseball is all about sample size, which is why I much preferred the old pennant criteria... you had to be the best teamin your league over 162 games to earn a pennant, and as such a pennant meant more. The current playoff format, while fairly decent, does allow for garbage teams like the 2006 cardinals to luck into the playoffs, get hot, and steal the championship away from a more deserving team.

Back to the WBC... Japan is a fine team, but the Phillies withstood the rigors of a 162 game season, won their division, and won three playoff series to earn their title. Make no mistake, the Phillies are the real world champions.

Rick Rockwell said...

Phil has this mostly right, although I disagree with some of his assessment.

The lords of MLB created this tournament, so they probably wouldn't like an alternative format. This format often features MLB stars on various national teams. So it is a great international marketing device.

Let's take Phil's larger point a step farther though: the real world champ should be decided in a competition of the championship teams from these nations, not some thrown together all-star lineup which also intensifies the issues Phil already points out are the problems with this format.

Put the Phillies on the field with the top team from Japan... with the top team from Cuba... with the top team from Mexico. Let them fight it out. That would be a real baseball classic. What you have now is manufactured and ersatz.

But again I'm prejudiced against just about anything that springs from the mind of Bud Selig.

PJ Kehres said...

Rick --

I like your idea. I also agree that MLB set this thing up for marketing purposes. I fear, though, that baseball simply doesn't lend itself well to international play. Even if we set up a tournament based on you suggestion, and even if each team played a 7-game series, there's still a potential for flukes. But it would be a much better system than this sort of one game at a time pool play. They're tryig to set it up like the World Cup, but baseball is a vastly different sports than soccer.

As for my "Phillies are the real world champions" comment, which is where I'm guessing your disagreement springs from... I'll stand by this. Though it would be nearly impossible to directly measure the differences in talent between international leagues and the MLB, the fact that foreign plays come to the US in the prime of their careers while MLB players ofetn get "demoted" to Japanese leagues speaks volumes. I think the level of talent in the MLB is vastly superior.

Rick Rockwell said...

No argument, the Phillies are the legitimate world champs by current standards.

But why leave this to barroom argument?

And why do this on the World Cup quadrennial system?

It will never happen in my lifetime but baseball needs a real international championship system.

Anonymous said...

The WBC format is perfectly fine for this basic concept. Unless teams are willing to play a 3-5 game playoff/championship type format, PJ's comment of flukey wins makes no sense. Teams that play in asia had to travel to Japan. Mind you it's one of the most safest of the asian countries and most tolerable (mind you the Japanese can be extreamly racial but that's a whole different topic to get into.)
The game that's played here for the past 20+ years has been all about the long ball. Since the early 90's we've seen teams just want to hit more long balls rather than focus on the fundamentals of hitting. Countries like Korea, Cuba, USA, Domin, Venez, and Puerto Rico all play long ball. Japan RETURNED to the finals and WON both using small ball and great defense.
The Philies, this past season, was a long ball team that adapted to small ball when they had to, and was more effective when they did play small ball. Though if they played small ball all year, they'd have a better record. Look at Tampa, they only had small ball all season for the most part but they tried to play the big bat and lost horribly to the Philies. Now the Rays did have some power hitters, but they did no good during the championships.

Now what would impress me as well as the rest of the world, have a 3 game tournament between Asia's pro team championship, and the south american teams including all the island nations. 3 games for each country that wants to represent. This will help solidify the "World" championship title.

Untill then, Japan IS the BEST country in baseball for the past 3 years!

People in the US have to let go of that sterotype that asian players aren't as good as American players. Yes we send our old and weaker player to Asia, but you can see the talent of Ichiro Suzuki, Hideo Nomo (when he first came out, and also mind you, he was the first to throw a no hitter at Coors Stadium, once thought impossible to do up in that altitude) I can name a few other all star caliber players in the Major League. The point I'm trying to make here is that baseball is a world game now, and we mis title our "world championship" and we need to change our perspectives on who plays and how they play it. Yeah the Japanese batters look odd in their swing, and yes the intensity of the Koreans may seem intimidating/offensive but that is what Americans tend to do... make fun of and dismiss. Talent is talent, and with all this B.S. that is circulating around with HGH and Steroids, be happy for a true World Baseball Classic that happens every three years and cheer for the winners of this format!

Rick Rockwell said...

Our anonymous commentator has some good ideas here... a short series format organized properly and in intensive fashion with some preliminary play-in would answer the question of which team is really the best. All you get with the current format is which country has the best talent (and even that is debatable as all-star teams are notorious for not maximizing the true talent on a team let alone showing what a group can do when it works together over longer stretches of time than the short WBC season) or perhaps plays the best style.

I will point out Suzie's original piece here and most of the comments do honor the accomplishments of the Asian players, especially the Japanese talent. Dice-K and the other MLB players on Japan's team certainly spelled the difference in the end.

But until the format is reworked this doesn't really tell us what is the best team in the baseball world.

What it actually does is give us something to argue about until 2013. (And who knows if they will change the format by then. Not likely.)

Anonymous said...

"I will point out Suzie's original piece here and most of the comments do honor the accomplishments of the Asian players, especially the Japanese talent. Dice-K and the other MLB players on Japan's team certainly spelled the difference in the end."

Oh I totally understand what you mean there. In no way was I trying to state that Suzie was being negative towards that Asian community. It was more geared towards the lines of the Pro's and the general public not viewing other countries other than the Latin one's as potential equals.
I can go off on a tanget on how the U.S. and the general public still have reservations on Asian players and won't praise the accomplishment that Korea had in the Olympics, or with Japan in the WBC.
I've known Suzie for quite some time and I have never thought negative of her. I also have never known her to show any discriminatory tendancies (well other than the 93 Blue Jays.)

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