Posted: Thursday March 9, 2006 11:28AM; Updated: Thursday March 9, 2006 1:14PM
But clearly, the goal of the WBC is to take the game beyond the established countries, to its frontiers. Given this aim to stage a worldwide baseball festival, a celebration of the beauty and drama of the game from here to Beijing, the WBC organizers could have taken a lesson from a big source of grassroots interest in the sport: fantasy baseball leagues.
Instead of dividing -- and in cases such as Mike Piazza and Italy, jamming -- players into country affiliations, the WBC should have taken the best players in the world, along with the best players from as many underdeveloped baseball countries as they could find, and drafted them into equal teams. You could even assign celebrities to do the drafting for a little style -- the Tommy Lasorda team, the Sadaharu Oh team -- heck, even the Ziyi Zhang team.
With this method, you end up with 16 teams of relatively equal ability -- and a great competition. You sacrifice the parochial national interest of rooting for your country, but you enhance the chance that you will be rooting for your country's players longer.
A global draft format not only maximizes the chance of great baseball but also fosters a truly international spirit to the game. What would provide the potential baseball-loving population in China the bigger thrill -- the slim-to-none chance of beating Japan, or the guaranteed opportunity to see one of its own turn a double play with Miguel Tejada? If I'm 15 years old in China, I might not ever be on a team that beats the Dominican Republic in my lifetime -- but that guy with Batista, that could be me. That would get me excited.
Whether or not baseball turns from nationalizing the WBC to internationalizing it, it had better solve the WBC's second problem: location. Amazingly for an endeavor that is designed to promote the American national pastime around the world, WBC games are being played in only one city outside of the United States and its territories: Tokyo. Admittedly, there are logistical problems with each distant city you bring the tournament to, but if you can't solve those for a long weekend, you've probably got little hope for internationalizing the sport in the near future.
There's nothing new in the world about watching American baseball players on television. The WBC needs to bring the game to the people. Bring the stars to the Netherlands. Bring the stars to China. Bring 'em to Mars if you have to. Piazza playing for Italy makes a mockery of the WBC. Piazza playing in Italy? That's glorious.
If you want to get resistant minds interested in opera, (rather than watching it as a gimmick and then forgetting about it the next day), you don't televise 12 American Idol finalists performing Pagliacci in Rome. You bring a primo Pagliacci to Poughkeepsie. Baseball can certainly choose to wait 50-odd years for countries from multiple continents to become competitive so its tournament can become one of true global interest. But for more immediate results, baseball should construct a WBC in which the priority isn't nationalism but going around the planet to present the best of a sport that so many of us give thanks for every night.