Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Thinking Outside the WBC Batter's Box

It's that time again. Spring Training, you say? No, time for people to hate the World Baseball Classic.

Soccer. Celsius. Coke made with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Passports. Stubbornly dumb is what we are sometimes, opting out of global harmony because we know nothing of history and think we are somehow unique in the world. We're so unique that no one knows how many measuring units are in a bigger measuring unit because we refuse to adopt a rational system based on tens.

Our isolationist past has stuck with us despite our invention of the airplane and the internet, our military conquests, and the Made in China stamp on half the stuff we buy. This isolationism has had negative consequences on something so inherently a part of America as apple pie itself: baseball.

The hatred for the World Baseball Classic is virulent for some and ambivalent for others. But it's not a popular tournament. We should be rejoicing that we have the opportunity to share the game we love with people across the world, but people across the world are second class human beings to a lot of Americans. We're a country in which less than a quarter of citizens hold a passport, a country that always needs a foreign enemy, a country with virtually zero exposure to things outside our borders. It's no wonder something like baseball, a game that is woven into the fabric of our being, isn't doing so well on the international level. Heck, it's not even an Olympic sport anymore.

Every WBC it’s the same thing. Pitchers might get hurt.  The argument is tiresome. There is little more than anecdotal evidence that pitching in the WBC wears out the arm. The pitchers who happened to get hurt in the same year may have been hurt no matter what – there’s no way of knowing. Pointing to pitchers like Edinson Volquez getting hurt in the same year as “evidence” is like pointing to snow and using it as “evidence” that global warming is some global conspiracy to…whatever the conspiracy nutjobs think is the reason scientists study climate change. Even though I don't think Dusty Baker is responsible for Volquez's arm troubles, at least that's a more plausible theory than the World Baseball Classic hurts pitchers. What about the overwhelming number of pitchers who DON'T get hurt during the Classic? And what of those who get hurt during Spring Training? Ryan Madson didn’t pitch in the WBC and we paid him a lot of money to not throw one pitch all season.

I think what this perpetual argument is really about is the unconscious hatred for all things international that far too many Americans hold, as well as the American tendency to find controversy in everything. I also hold sports journalists responsible. Isn't there anything else to write about rather than drudging up the same old made up controversies?

What we really should be discussing is the length of the regular season and how pitching has evolved faster than the human body has been able to adapt. We can’t strengthen and condition tendons and ligaments like we can muscles. Pitchers start to throw in February and some don’t stop until November. We should be talking about the need for 150 game season, which would eliminate 2-3 starts for a team’s top starters. The problem is that the Yankees, Red Sox, and teams of that ilk won’t study the long-term costs of playing those six home games that would be eliminated in a shorter season. When you’re dishing out $15 million a year to one of your top pitchers and suddenly he can’t pitch any more, that adds up, especially if you gave him a long-term contract and he never fully recovers.

Promoting the sport internationally is brilliant for baseball. It creates baseball breeding grounds and gives us a greater potential to expand the quality of players that are available. Remember after the Rockies and Marlins were added how it was said that pitching was watered down because there simply weren’t enough good arms to go to every team? (That was near the beginning of the expansion of scouting in the Latin countries, back when baseball academies weren’t a regular part of a team’s scouting.) I always thought that was a strange idea, that there were so many people in the world but the next Babe Ruth would never fulfill his potential because he was born in India or China or Nowhereistan. Pouring money and attention into the World Baseball Classic gives us a greater opportunity to find Babu Ruth.

I wish we could all be excited about it. I know I am.

(If this sounds familiar, part of this post was a comment I made on another blog.)