Team USA’s victory in the World Baseball Classic was very important for American baseball. This year’s tournament was largely a showcase of Latin American talent, as countries like Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic put on shows, proving that the MLB’s global roots are as strong as ever. But, it also showed that the United States can still hang with the best of them and that American baseball is not irrellevant.
However, the Classic as a whole was a victory in and of itself. Created to fill the void left by baseball’s removal from the Olympics, the World Baseball Classic has been written off since its inception as a glorified Spring Training and very few took the tournament seriously throughout its first two incarnations in 2006 and 2009. USA reliever Pat Neshek even told USA Today that he thought the event was a joke when it was first created.
The 2013 version of the tournament was the first time that people really began taking the World Baseball Classic seriously, and a fight was the evidence. A donnybrook broke out in a game between Team Mexico and Team Canada that took 10 minutes to break up. While one could argue that fighting shouldn’t happen in an exhibition baseball game, the fracas proved that teams were taking the tourney seriously and wanted to win. And that carried over to this year.
Despite low expectations, the 2017 Classic lived up to its billing as players from all over the globe lit up the international stage, even lesser known baseball countries shined (Israel), and fans of those countries took notice. Team USA lauded the passion and intensity that fans of from all over the world brought to the tournament.
“The Dominican fans, the Puerto Ricans, the Venezuelan fans, just the energy that was in the ballpark for those games was beyond my expectations,” said Ian Kinsler. “It was crazy, I loved it.’’
The success of the tournament may change the views of players as well. Much buzz was generated over top American stars like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant and Clayton Kershaw turning down invitations to play in the tournament, especially when one considers that the top American stars are the only ones refusing to play for their nation. MLB stars from other nations such as Manny Machado (Dominican Republic), Yadier Molina (Puerto Rico), Xander Bogaerts (Netherlands) and Freddie Freeman (Canada) were glad to lace up for their countries
But, Team USA had no trouble in their absences. Rising MLB stars Brandon Crawford, Eric Hosmer, Christian Yelich and Marcus Stroman were instrumental in America’s championship and proved that the United States’ baseball talent goes far deeper than just the marquee stars.
“We had players that wanted to be here, and that’s the players you want,’’ United States’ manager Jim Leyland said after the US won.
While the United States proved in the Classic that it does not need its top stars to succeed, imagine how much more electric the World Baseball Classic could be in 2021 if players like that decide to come out? Imagine how much more legitimate the Classic would be if you added Trout and Harper to Andrew McCutchen in the USA outfield and Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner to the rotation? The United States’ top stars joining in would mean each nation in the tournament would be putting its best on the field. It would only make the World Baseball Classic more exciting.
The WBC is no longer a joke, if anything is for certain after this year, it’s that. But, the 2021 tournament could be even more amazing, and that’s saying something.