Baseball Makes Pitch for Global Audience

The World Baseball Classic is Major League Baseball's attempt to go global. Will it pay off, or is it just a distraction? Liane Hansen asks Buster Olney, a senior writer for ESPN: The Magazine.

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

For baseball fans, the month of March comes in with a thwack of a bat and the thwop of a ball against a glove. Spring training gets underway, which means the baseball season is not far away. Many enthusiasts head to Arizona or Florida to see their favorite teams and players in action, but this year some of the most famous players, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemmons, David Ortiz and Ichiro Suzuki won't be there. They're suiting up in uniforms bearing the national flags of the Dominican Republic, Japan or the United States to play in the first ever World Baseball Classic. Here to tell us a little more about how baseball is going global is Buster Olney, a senior writer for ESPN, the magazine. Welcome to the program, Buster.

Mr. BUSTER OLNEY (Senior Writer, ESPN Magazine): Thanks, Liane.

HANSEN: We have 16 nations represented, many of them have Major League players on the roster. Which team looks strongest to you?

Mr. OLNEY: The United States. If they were fielding their best talent, they absolutely would be the favorite and they're going to be a strong team in this event. The Dominican Republic has tremendous power hitters in their lineup and maybe the best offense. And Venezuela has surprisingly good pitching. It really is probably the rising power in international baseball right now.

HANSEN: What about the reports of the concerns of the coaches and the general managers and the players about having competition this close to the start of the season. They're saying it's going to interrupt the flow of regular season preparations. It puts the players at risk of injury. Do you think their concerns are valid?

Mr. OLNEY: There's no question that it is a very unusual time because early in spring training normally pitchers would be approaching their exhibition pitching basically going about 50 percent speed lobbing fast balls and change-ups and not really putting a lot of strain on their arm, and now they're going into what is going to be a very high level, intense competition, and for that reason, managers, coaches, players, some owners even, are concerned that some of the players are going to injure themselves because they're simply not physically prepared to play.

HANSEN: So what's the deal here, is the World Baseball Classic sort of an answer to the International Olympic Committee's decision to declassify baseball as an Olympic sport?

Mr. OLNEY: Well, I think it's the effort of Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to basically create baseball's answers to the soccer's World Cup. They want to plant the seeds for growth around the world for the sport. And what Major League Baseball executives are saying is they want to make baseball an attractive option for the top athletes around the world and that has clearly taken place with basketball. They would love to follow the basketball model.

HANSEN: The cynical view might be that it's another market for Major League Baseball merchandise.

Mr. OLNEY: It is. There's no question. And that's part of the reason why so many club executives are upset about it. What's interesting is, is that in the best case scenario this year, Major League Baseball expects to make about $15 million and the next time they do it, say in 2009, they would make about $100 million. The individual team's cut of this is only ten percent for 30 teams. So the New York Yankees, for instance, who are fielding a number of players in this event, you mentioned Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, the most money that they expect to make as an organization is about $300,000 or the cost of a minimum wage player, and from their perspective they're saying, What's in it for us?

HANSEN: Bottom line, you think this is going to work?

Mr. OLNEY: I don't think that this is going to work at all. I think it's going to be a one-time shot.

HANSEN: Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN the magazine, and we reached him at his home in Yorktown, New York. Buster, thanks a lot.

Mr. OLNEY: Thanks, Liane.

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