After another historic day in the fifth edition of baseball’s world championship, there appears to be a force of MLB fans and commentators who are now signaling caution because Puerto Rico and New York Mets Edwin Díaz was injured after a celebration after their win over the Dominican Republic.
But, as a baseball community that includes even those that dislike the WBC for some odd reason, we must be smarter to not play into these very dumb narratives by people who make their money being loud mouths and jerks on TV and in the media.
It is nothing against these personalities as they are often very entertaining to watch, and when they are talking about an issue that does not really matter, it can be quite fun.
But, when these voices start talking about things that could have disastrous impacts for the future of a sport, we must raise caution and engage in actual intelligent debate.
We must realize that these people create revenue by shock value.
So, when people such as those at Bar Stool Sports or ESPN suggest that players should not be allowed in the WBC because of this injury, we must ask the question too if they believe that MLB players should not be able to celebrate after an MLB game, at a birthday party, buying a house, at church, at the car dealership, in the hotel, etcetera.
It is one thing if the pitcher in question got injured doing something unique to the WBC, but he did not.
They act like the WBC put out an artificial mountain slope and made the players ski down a hill. Do they not realize that tons of players have been injured at Spring Training?
I understand it is unfortunate as a Mets fan to lose a key player, but you have to understand the long-term plan of this event. Baseball cannot grow unless it creates new fans and it simply cannot be done to the amount it needs to if it is only the MLB that is on TV.
Baseball struggles for relevance because it is often irrelevant. This is nothing against the sport at all, and actually, I quite like it and I hope it does not change. Let me explain.
With globalization, we now have access to all sorts of sports including our own. And, if you like sports, you will often have the opportunity to watch a FIFA World Cup or continental qualifier in soccer in the summer that only includes like 10 games, the NFL in the fall that only includes like 17 games, the NCAA Tournament in the early spring where every game is vitally important, the NBA and NHL playoffs in the late spring and early summer, as well as the ending to the top soccer leagues around the world, and this is only scratching the surface.
The point is, all of these other events are far more relevant than a random Rockies versus Dodgers game in mid-June that is likely to have zero impact on the season!
And then, when the MLB does become very relevant at the end of the season and in the playoffs, you have football! I mean, how can you not watch college football where every game is basically a knockout game and the NFL which again, has 17 games?
And think about other nations and other hemispheres? If you are in Europe for example, it is already tough enough to watch sports from the Americas, but then you are going to get up or stay up late to watch the Angels play the A’s for the third time that week?
But, once every four years, or three years or six years depending on the context, the World Baseball Classic comes around and tears this thinking to shreds.
All of a sudden, not only does baseball become more relevant than the other professional sports, but it becomes even more relevant than the NCAA Tournament because this is for your nation and instead of happening every year, it happens again, once every four years!
But, it is these pundits that hold back the tournament’s potential in the US, and now are threatening the tournament’s future with horrible takes.
Already, these pundits are overly disrespectful by pretending that this is an exhibition tournament or by pretending that if the USA does not win, that somehow that is because their “best players did not go”, even when you have an actual country where almost their whole A-team has not been allowed to play for them just south of the US (Have these pundits heard of Cuba?).
If people truly love baseball, they should want the sport to reach the highest popularity it can. They should want to visit São Paulo and Lagos, and see professional baseball there like you see professional basketball and soccer.
But these people do not care about the growth of baseball. They care more about making a hot take, than about the fact that this tournament has introduced baseball to school children in England. They care more about looking cool and edgy, than the fact that on almost every major newspaper in Mexico, baseball was number one on the sports page on a day that famed Mexican Chucky Lozano helped SSC Napoli reach historic territory in the UEFA Champions League. Simply put, they care more about their MLB team than about baseball itself!
And, if they succeed with their goals, whether they actually want them or are doing it for show, they will display exactly why baseball has failed to grow to its potential while sports like soccer and even cricket keep creeping higher.
For example, baseball is far popular in Japan and South Korea than soccer, but in soccer, fans of Japan and South Korea get to see their nations’ A team compete more than once or twice every four years so of course that is going to have an impact on the standing of soccer against baseball in the country. But still, despite these facts, the World Baseball Classic provides just enough opportunity for national pride that these two nations continue to be baseball first nations, especially Japan.
Or take Mexico where baseball is the most popular sport in much of the north of the country. Do you think it can continue to be if all of a sudden their favorite team, Mexico, stops playing in top level competition?
There is a major reason why Panama is now arguably a soccer nation and that is because top level baseball did not exist for Panama until 2006 and did not exist from 2010-2022.
And look at the Philippines! Did you know the Philippines used to be a baseball and basketball nation, but now it is really only a basketball nation. Baseball lost a country of 100 million people simply because of neglect, and yet they still neglect the Philippines to this day, a country that has embraced soccer as of late due to the success of their women’s soccer national team.
What we need is more international baseball with national teams and not less!
And we need more with MLB players allowed.
Imagine if the WBSC Premier12 had MLB players, and if the continental championships as well as the qualifiers for the WBC were in a month MLB players could compete?
Or imagine if the Olympics allowed MLB players as well?
This would add even more examples of baseball when it is extremely relevant, and it would give more nations a chance at winning a top level competition.
The truth is, these nations get more pride and care about baseball more when they know it is a legitimate tournament with MLB and Nippon League players available.
And, the USA does too as well as Canadians. And they really would care more if their sports media actually marketed these competitions for what they truly are!
As it is, on ESPN and TSN, the WBC has been the #1 or #2 story for a lot of the night and early morning, even with the the NCAA Tournament starting on Thursday.
It might be true that an embrace of more international competition could lead to less of a monopoly on the world market for the MLB, but it would also create more opportunity for baseball players. Take for example The Bahamas and Great Britain who are both keen on creating professional leagues following the success of Team GB and its Bahamians this last WBC.
Or take for example the fact that because there is only one competition where baseball includes the top MLB players, this means it is extremely tough for countries like Brazil to invest in baseball when they actually have really good players?
Or what about nations like Peru who surely could become good at baseball, if given more opportunities to play top level baseball?
This is why the World Baseball Classic is so important because it allows just enough international baseball to expand the sport across the globe.
So, if you want to live in a world with more baseball, give the world more baseball and do not take our world cup away!
I can tell you this, if the Detroit Tigers were playing the New York Mets at 6 am, I would not be watching, but Italy against Japan in the Tokyo Dome with Super Mario themed Italian fans, of course I am going to be watching. It is exciting.
As to the irrelevance of the 162-game MLB season, it is an exaggeration, but it is also good. The reason it is an exaggeration is because first off, the MLB averages an insane amount of people to each game that rivals the top leagues in any sport outside of the NFL, and the total MLB attendance is second to none by quite away followed by the Nippon League! So, it is inappropriate to call it irrelevant. And, it is good because it allows more people to be able to afford to go to these games because the quantity is so high. With inflation, I can honestly say baseball is a God-sent and being able to turn it on TV every night is an amazing gift that like our families, we often take for granted. But, it is true that most people tune the MLB out until the playoffs or towards the end of the season, minus maybe a week to week update.
And, so, the World Baseball Classic does not only allow baseball to grow overseas, but also to grow in the USA and Canada that already have Major League level baseball, because the more people that get to watch high-stakes baseball in March, the more likely there will be more people watching lower-stakes baseball in July. After all, it is still baseball, and it is very exciting.
In the end, Italy played in a World Baseball Classic Quarterfinal and got a call out by a famous singer from there, and an Italian-born player got a 9th inning hit. The Italians might have lost 3-9, but against Japan in the Tokyo Dome and in the Quarterfinals, one can only say that baseball is likely to continue to grow in Italy too.