The Dominican Republic can lay claim to being the champions of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, going undefeated in the tournament and shutting out Puerto Rico in the final game, 3-0. Robinson Cano was rightfully named tourney MVP, although one could also have made a case for Fernando Rodney, who saved seven games during the tournament.
While it was far from a perfect tournament, it had some great moments. There were the honkbal Dutch, proving that 2009 was far from a fluke by making it to the semi-finals, defeating the mighty Cubans twice on the way. There was Italy’s similarly amazing run. There were the great fans, who even in the less-attended games made the crowd seem several times bigger. And it had high drama, with Davids facing Goliaths, the old facing the young, and, in some cases, entire nations sitting on the edge of their seats.
Still, the WBC does definitely have room for improvement, so go below the jump for some of my suggestions:
Make it bigger and more constant:
No, not the main tournament itself, but rather the qualifying and lead-up cycle. One of the problems with the WBC is that it is dormant for a long time between games, to the point that when it comes around again people are like: “Oh, yeah, WBC.” By having more qualifiers, preferably spaced over greater amounts of time, it could keep the World Baseball Classic in people’s minds, at least slightly. In addition, by having more qualifiers, more teams would have a chance to possibly qualify for the WBC, although it’s unlikely any new teams added to the qualifiers would have much a chance against those already in the qualifying pool.
Thankfully, it appears this already will occur:
MLB “1000% committed” to WBC in 2017, per EVP Tim Brosnan. Might add more nations to qualifying rounds, maybe starting as soon as 2015.
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) March 20, 2013
It will be interesting to see how these new qualifying rounds will work. One possibility is that there could be “qualifier qualifying”, in which teams could try to qualify for the qualifiers. Assuming there are still 4 qualifier spots for the World Baseball Classic tournament itself, this expansion could expand the tournament’s overall field from 28 to anywhere from 36 to 40 teams (depending on whether one team from the pre-existing qualifiers was relegated to the secondary qualifier with only one chance to advance out of the secondary qualifying pool, or whether two would be relegated but with two spots to get out of the secondary qualifying pool).
Given the sharp dropoff in talent that starts happening the more teams you add (even the 24-team qualifiers had some questionable teams like Thailand and France), it would probably be a good idea to expand to 36 instead of the 40, with the two lowest teams from each of the 2012-13 WBC qualifier pools being relegated, but with two spots being open in these “secondary qualifiers” for the qualifiers to advance.
The two teams that advance from each secondary qualifier would then enter the regular qualifiers played in 2016, with the teams that qualify from those making the 2017 WBC.
Be more creative with the hosting, but avoid cold-weather areas (except domes):
It’s a bit of a sad fact that, of all of the areas that hosted the WBC this time around, the finals were perhaps the site with the worst atmosphere. It was the result of a variety of factors: the ticket prices for San Francisco were set far too high to begin with, the bouncing of the Asian teams and Team USA removed the teams that would have most resonated with the Bay Area, and the sports fans of San Francisco may also be experiencing some “big event” fatigue after big playoff runs by both the Giants and the 49ers. But, really, it just wasn’t baseball weather. It was cold, and in the finals it was rainy.
So, in 2017, the WBC committee should make a point of having all games either in warm-weather areas or in domes. And, hopefully, they will continue to shift the games to some new places. The Dominican Republic, for example, has never hosted a WBC. With them now as champions, would it not make sense for them to host a pool of the WBC at Estadio Quisqueya? And Korea, despite being one of the countries that has shown the most excitement for the WBC, has never hosted a round. They are building a domed stadium, why not have them host a pool, much like how Taiwan had a pool this year?
And what of the finals? While it would make sense to have it in a warm-weather MLB city like Anaheim, Miami or Houston, could 2017 be the first time the WBC plays it’s championship round in another country? It is an interesting question, especially since the attendance at international games (with the exception of San Juan, although Hiram Bithorn Stadium is not large enough for the finals round) has been low when the home team hasn’t been playing. Could the organizers give the finals to Tokyo, Toronto or some other international city and risk possibly having an empty stadium if the “home team” doesn’t make it?
Make it easier to watch
It’s easy to see why the WBC was moved to MLB Network. On ESPN, it was just one of many things on the Worldwide Leader, competing for time on the schedule with College Basketball, the NBA, and whatever faux-controversy emerged out of the NFL off-season. On MLB Network, it was the star of the show.
However, far more people get ESPN than get MLB Network, so far fewer people could watch the WBC. This could have been negated if MLB provided a way to watch the games online… and did. However, they counter-intuitively made it available to people who had subscriptions to one of three service providers that had MLB Network, meaning that few if any people who didn’t have MLB Network could watch the WBC… and that no doubt included people who wanted to watch the WBC.
So, in 2017, MLB and the WBC should make it more available online, perhaps allowing people to pay a small fee to see the games, with that fee being waived if you are already subscribed to MLB Network. They could call it “WBC.TV” or something like that.
Require at least a minimum amount of players be born or an official citizen of the country they are representing
The lenient eligibility rules for the WBC are meant to give teams from non-traditional baseball countries a chance to compete. However, some countries, most notably Spain, abuse this. The Spanish team in this WBC had only one Spanish-born player on the team, and in my opinion that goes against the spirit of the rules, as it removes any incentive of actually building up a baseball program, instead encouraging them to simply find players who can fit the eligibility qualifiers. So, I suggest that a new rule be added in: a certain amount of players (perhaps five or six) must have either been actually born in the country OR be a full-fledged citizen of it (under current WBC rules, even players who could conceivably be citizens if they filled out enough paperwork qualify). This would allow countries such as Spain to still get ringers to help out, while also keeping a hefty incentive for developing domestic baseball programs.
So, there you go. What do you think?