Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins is a huge proponent of the World Baseball Classic. A two-time participant, Rollins would like to see some changes. As a fan and a citizen of the United States, I would like to see changes as well. And it starts with Major League Baseball showing some American pride. That includes the team on the field, where the games are played, and even how often they are played, as Rollins says.
The tournament began as a way to replace baseball in the Olympics. In 2005 in a secret ballot, the International Olympic Committee decided to drop baseball and softball from Olympic play. The World Baseball Classic debuted in 2006 to give countries a means of representing their country in a similar way. One nice thing about the World Baseball Classic is that the professional players would be able to play since play would be prior to the baseball season instead of during the summer. Finally, the United States could use their brightest players instead of college players.
How about this dream rotation?
- RHP Justin Verlander
- LHP Cole Hamels
- RHP Stephen Strasburg
- LHP David Price
- LHP Clayton Kershaw
How about this lineup?
- 2B Brandon Phillips
- LF Mike Trout
- RF Giancarlo Station
- DH Ryan Braun
- 1B Prince Fielder
- C Joe Mauer
- 3B David Wright
- CF Bryce Harper
- SS Jimmy Rollins
One major problem is a certain ennui among American players when it comes to the tournament. They play in their home country all the time. They are All-Stars who have garnered much attention and earned a lot of money. There is no added motivation that comes with representing a country that sees you play all the time. For Dominican players like Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez, this is their one change to play for their country after earning their living in another. That motivation is hard to match.
Further, fear of injury keeps many players out of the tournament that should be there. Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Stephen Strasburg are three of the game's finest players right now, even at their young ages. But an agent will whisper in their ear that they do not want them to get hurt and risk their big pay day. This year's World Baseball Classic saw injuries to Mark Teixeira, David Wright, and Hanley Ramirez. But those injuries could have happened at home. And who knows - maybe Jimmy Rollins jams his thumb at home at Spring Training but does not because he is representing the United States. It is almost silly to speculate.
Rollins believes so much in the cause that he thinks that the World Baseball Classic should happen every other year. In an ESPN piece yesterday, Rollins shared his thoughts:
"Four years, especially in this sport, where you play every day, is a long time," he said. "So you've got guys who are 28 [and didn't play]. But now they'd know they'd get another shot when they're 30, instead of when they're 32. Big difference. When you've got four years of baseball in between, a lot can go on. Four years is a long time.
Harper, sitting at home perhaps because of fear of injury, wishes he had the chance, Rollins said:
"Wasn't it (Bryce) Harper who said he definitely wants to play in the one in '17?" Rollins went on. "If there was one in '15, then he could have that first real big-league spring training (this year) and get that out of the way. Now the next year, he knows he's on the team. He waits a year. And then the following year, he'd be able to play in it."
The attendance at some of these games was near embarrassing. We would never expect fans in Miami to come out and support the Marlins, but not too many more came out for some of the games. Television ratings were through the roof in Puerto Rico and Japan for their games in the tournament, and the final game was the top-watched sporting event in the Dominican Republic in the last ten years.
I would advocate that games be played in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Japan in future years. If the United States does not really support the tournanment, it is only fair that games are played in countries that would appreciate it much more. Maybe if American players were representing the United States on someone else's soil they would come to appreciate their role in the tournament much more as fighting for their country back home.
For the United States to be able to compete, Major League Baseball must fully be on board. If not, the motivated players representing their home countries will always come out on top and those like Jimmy Rollins who may have the right attitude will always go home disappointed.