World Baseball Classic? Not Quite
SCOTT SIMON, host:
Time now for baseball. Spring training began for real this week, when position players joined the pitchers and catchers, but spring training will be interrupted this year by the first ever World Baseball Classic. The WBC runs for two weeks, opens in Tokyo on Friday, and continues in the United States. Teams from 16 countries, including Australia, the Netherlands, Taiwan and Cuba, will crisscross the globe to compete.
Now, many big league baseball names will be wearing unfamiliar uniforms. Freddy Garcia of the Chicago White Sox will pitch for Venezuela, because he was born in Caracas. Andrew Jones of the Atlanta Braves was born in Curacao, so he'll play for the Netherlands. And Mike Piazza, now of the San Diego Padres, will play for Italy, just because.
Sports commentator Ron RAPOPORT plays for us.
Ron, thanks for being with us.
RON RAPOPORT reporting:
Thank you, Scott. You actually think Mike Piazza has been closer to Italy than Tony Roma's?
SIMON: The desert menu at Tony Roma. Well, you raise something. Isn't this a good idea that enlists the world's interest in baseball, or just a promotional gimmick?
RAPOPORT: No, I think it's the latter, Scott. You can't just take a time of the season when players are just rounding into shape and playing exhibition game, and just call it a world championship. I don't think anybody is taking it seriously on a competitive level. Which is one reason why so many top players from a number of countries aren't going.
RAPOPORT: I mean, when you have a Japanese team without Hideki Matsui, right?
RAPOPORT: Or Tadahito Iguchi, who played a big part in the White Sox winning the World Series, what exactly are we proving here?
SIMON: Well, what's Major League Baseball trying to accomplish?
RAPOPORT: Well, they're trying to sell t-shirts and spread the brand name. Remember the Dream Team, Scott?
RAPOPORT: This is what Bud Selig is thinking about, the way Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, you know, spread the brand all around the world. Well, baseball is different, though. Many of the countries, from Latin America in particular, that are in this tournament, already the game is a big deal there. And somehow I don't think that the Netherlands, and South Africa, and Australia, are exactly fertile markets for the brand name.
SIMON: I want to ask about the Cuban team, because there's been a lot of attention. First they weren't coming and now they're coming. There continues to be speculation that they won't come because the risks are too great. If they bring a good team, they're going to leave them all in Orlando, or at least most of them.
RAPOPORT: The question now seems to be whether Cuba will send some of its best younger players, who might defect in order to sign lucrative contracts here, or some of the players past their prime, hoping they won't defect.
SIMON: Is the Major League Baseball season going to be harmed, at least at the beginning, because at least a few of the big names were playing in the World Baseball Classic?
RAPOPORT: Well, wait and see what would happen if, say, Derrek Lee, the Cubs' big star were to get hurt? What if Derek Jeter were to get beamed and miss half the season? Do you think that would be a good thing for Major League Baseball and for the concept of this World Baseball Classic? I just don't see an upside to the U.S. participating in this tournament at all. And think about this too, Scott.
RAPOPORT: If you're a Yankee fan and you go to spring training, don't you want to see Derek Jeter playing in a Yankee uniform? He won't be there. And spring training has become a very big lucrative deal. It just seems to me that baseball has not really thought this one through.
SIMON: Ron, what's your prediction for how this Netherlands team is going to do?
RAPOPORT: Well, let's go with the Dominican team, Scott. They've got a lot of good players.
SIMON: That's exactly my pick. You could, you know, you practically have an All-Star at every position on both the Dominican and Puerto Rican teams.
Ron, thanks very much.
RAPOPORT: Thank you, Scott.
SIMON: Ron Rapoport, columnist with the Chicago Sun Times and our sports commentator here on WEEKEND EDITION.
Do the Dutch know they can't skate between the bases?