Team USA will never win WBC with cavalier attitude toward event
USA skipper Davey Johnson had his share of tactical blunders on Sunday
Johnson had Derek Jeter at SS, even though Jimmy Rollins is the superior fielder
The manager also had the less-than-nimble Adam Dunn manning the outfield
LOS ANGELES -- There are plenty of problems with the World Baseball Classic, too many to enumerate in this space, but one of the more glaring -- and the biggest reason -- why this competition will never mean anything to the majority of fans in the United States is the person managing Team USA.
It isn't just Davey Johnson's fault or Buck Martinez's fault, the two managers who have failed to get Team USA to the WBC title game; the problem lies in the job requirement.
Essentially, the first prerequisite for coaching Team USA is being unemployed. After all, if you had a job, you would be in the midst of spring training somewhere in Florida or Arizona right now.
Johnson hasn't managed a major league team since 2000 and Martinez hadn't managed a major league team in four years before he led the USA to an eighth-place finish in the WBC in 2006.
Both Johnson and Martinez are great guys, but there is a reason they haven't managed in the major leagues for years. They're the kind of guys that will make one decision after another during the course of the game that will cause you to turn to the person next you and say, "Really?"
Johnson had a few of those moments during Sunday's 9-4 loss to Japan. Sticking with Roy Oswalt for as long as he did, after getting shelled for five runs in the fourth inning, playing Adam Dunn in the outfield, ever, under any circumstances, and playing Derek Jeter over the defensively superior Jimmy Rollins on a night when they could have used as much defense as possible.
The biggest problem, however, was the almost blasé attitude Johnson and USA Baseball CEO Paul Seiler had about the roster, at times. It was basically an extension of the way American sports fans felt about this team and the event, as a whole. Not just by the lack of buzz it attracted from the media but the lack of fans it attracted in host sites Miami and Los Angeles, where Team USA was essentially the underdog playing a "road game."
While the team suffered more than their fair share of injuries, they had no excuse in not properly replenishing their roster. Not when they only had 43 names on its provisional roster instead of the allowable 45, with nearly half (21) being pitchers. Even when they could have potentially replaced injured first baseman Kevin Youkilis with Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee, they chose not to, refusing to even ask players that might not play due to a minor injury or fear they would complain due to a lack of playing time.
"We're not even going to ask them to make that decision," said Seiler, referring to Lee, who had a mild quadriceps strain. "Even if a guy had a hint of an injury, it would be totally disrespectful to the player and the club." When asked about not carrying more position players, Seiler said, "If we had gone (with more) position players, we would have been carrying guys who would not have been playing or getting many at-bats."
If there was any illusion that Team USA was "in it to win it," it went out the door once you realized they essentially put together the roster and lineup with the same care and consideration given to an all-star game. Even Johnson's decision to pinch-hit Evan Longoria, who flew out from Florida on Friday, instead of Shane Victorino in the eighth inning seemed like more of a "thanks for coming out on such short notice" gesture than good baseball strategy at that point in the game.
In addition to leaving a couple roster spots empty and tip-toeing around players' egos and the wishes of baseball general managers, Johnson said he would have had no problem forfeiting a game, even an elimination game, if Team USA ran out of position players.
"I damn sure wouldn't want to be lynched or hung up in some city if I put Youkilis behind the dish or something," said Johnson. "I would definitely had to gone out and said we had to forfeit this ballgame. Yeah, I'd forfeit it."
They might as well cancel the WBC if Team USA was ever forced to forfeit a game because a manager refused to put a player behind the dish or a player refused to play there. The words "forfeit" and "Team USA" just don't go together. Then again, neither does "Team USA" and "World Baseball Classic" right now.