World Baseball Classic was fun, but it could be even better


Gio Gonzalez throws a pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
Having top players, like Gio Gonzalez, from every MLB team appear in the World Baseball Classic will only improve baseball’s global appeal.

Now that the World Baseball Classic is in the books, most of the attention seems to be turning to how effective it has been in raising the profile of baseball around the world, and how it can be improved moving forward.

No one disputes that it’s beneficial for baseball to have a global event that exposes casual sports fans to a game they might not otherwise see. The World Baseball Classic fills the gap left by the omission of baseball from the Olympic program, but it is failing to make the breakthrough outside the traditional baseball countries.

From the European perspective, despite having three nations represented, Italy, Spain and the fourth-placed Netherlands, the competition has made little impact. Baseball is never going to compete with soccer on the European stage, but there are a few simple steps which would make the 2017 edition more appealing.

The best players need to be playing. This might sound obvious, but it would be unthinkable for the soccer World Cup to take place without the game’s top players. The undoubted highlights of the World Baseball Classic for Team USA was the pitching of Gio Gonzalez and the hitting of David Wright. The main problem with the current format is going to be with pitchers, in addition to finding space in the already overcrowded MLB schedule.

The simplest way round this is to start spring training at the beginning of February and then shut it down for two to three weeks at the start of March for the WBC. The players who aren’t selected could continue to prepare with exhibition games, and the top players would be involved in games which would be much better preparation than  Cactus League or Grapefruit League games.

More effort needs to be made to engage the fans. In the majority of European countries, World Baseball Classic games were hard to find on TV, and even then, most of the games, including the final round, were starting in the middle of the night. If we really want new fans to come to the games, there should be a good mix of start times for all time zones, and most importantly, all the games should be available, live and on demand, for free. It may lead to a short-term financial loss, but it may attract more people to purchase an MLB.TV regular-season subscription.

Players need to be from the countries they are representing. This happens in all sports, a weaker nation tries to bulk out its roster by finding a way round rules governing who can appear. This is more of a problem for the European sides, the Italians fielding Anthony Rizzo and Nick Punto this time round. A stricter policy may take time to bear fruit, but it could ultimately encourage athletes from around the world to look to baseball as a serious career option. It may even help the development of upcoming leagues around the world.

These changes will take time to evolve and would not be popular with everyone, but if all parties involved show a desire for a common goal, they would move the World Baseball Classic and the global appeal of baseball in the direction we all want.

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  1. I think you could have a point about the Braves and the Nats. I’m not as confident as everyone else. I just put it down to my British pessimism. You are also incredibly generous with your World Cup history, the English never really took it seriously until 1966 when we hosted and won it. But that’s a discussion for another time and place….

  2. Oh, and the Braves will ice the Nats this year. Didn’t realize you were British or I wouldn’t have included the World Cup history lesson, which I am sure you are aware of. It was England who weren’t taking it seriously. 🙂

  3. As someone who is primarily a soccer fan (baseball is my 2nd favorite), this article really puts things in perspective for me. It resembles many articles I have read about American soccer. Very similar concerns and issues. Hopefully the WBC will eventually get the global audience it deserves. BTW, the World Cup took a decade or two to be taken seriously on a global scale.

  4. Not at all, Russell, and your comments regarding better overall television coverage and an earlier spring training both have merit. I would love to see the British Baseball Federation put together a quality team for 2017. I think folks in the UK, especially the younger generation, would go absolutely “crackers!”

  5. Hi Steve, I hope I didn’t imply that the European teams hadn’t done well. I take nothing away from their achievements, just trying to point out how it could be even better next time. It still seems too US/Japan focused, I get why that is, but if we want to expand the appeal of the game that needs to change.

  6. Yes, we know that baseball will never replace soccer across the pond, Russell. But Europeans should be very proud of their WBC success, even though the Netherlands squad was basically “Team Curacao.”

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