All right, let me get it off my chest: Why a World Baseball Classic, and more to the point, why at this time of the year?
Does that not detract from that critical season of the year, when Major League teams are being whipped into shape? When Chipper Jones and Brian McCann should be bringing their game up to the level the Braves expect of them? And that goes for the small army of other players being drawn away from their teams. Instead, most of the WBC major leaguers will away from their contracted teams for three weeks, the very heart of spring training.
As a matter of fact, this is the time when Jones and his agent should be working out the renewal of Chipper’s contract with the Braves. Instead, it’ll have to wait until the Classic is over, and into the regular season. It would be presumed that Jones’ return is a given, but you see what has happened in the case of some of the other veterans. John Smoltz tired of the hemming-and-hawing and left for the Red Sox. Then the Braves low-balled Tom Glavine, mainly because he had made it clear that if he played anywhere, it would be Atlanta. Andruw Jones made himself quite available, but the Braves didn’t bite—and you can understand that. He settled in Texas, where he’ll be under the watchful eye of Rudy Jaramillio, the Rangers celebrated batting coach.
These are delicate times in the case of many a player and many a team, but nary a peep of discontent arises from executives and managers. Players, such as McCann, sound so joyful they take the stance of soldiers going off in defense of the country. Take McCann:
“It’s an honor to put that USA across your chest,” the catcher said.
“I understand,” Bobby Cox says, but deep down inside you know it’s a disruption that disturbs him.
Patriotic posture, but after all, this is not the Olympics. It’s a cooperative production generated, peculiarly, through the cooperation of Bud Selig, representing the Major Leagues, and the players union, represented by Gene Orza, whose posture comes off out like that of a ringmaster.
“It’s here to stay,” Orza said, though television ratings barely raised a bump in the USA last time. Oh, there was enthusiasm among several players, David Wright of the Mets for one.
“Guys who went the last time said, ‘You gotta do it, you gotta do it,'” he said. So he’s doing it.
It does create an odd mixture of teammates among the various participating nations. Right off, Chipper hits a home run and the USA beats the Phillies. Weaker teams are Canada and Italy, but Cuba remains the mystery, a finalist last time with players unknown to American fans. Good for international relations, perhaps, but the timing? In the middle of spring training? This is American big business, new stadiums opening in New York at ungodly costs and the economy flattening out, player salaries hitting the ceiling and some prime attractions away playing for this political pennant. Ye gods!