When the World Baseball Classic became THE World Baseball Classic

In 1896, the first Olympic Games of the modern era began. While it was a success, it was hardly the grand festival of sports that we now know. Few elite runners of the era took part, the sailing and rowing competitions were straight-up canceled due to logistics and weather, only one non-European county (the United States) sent an actual team, and the swimming contest was held in open water because the Greeks couldn’t afford a natatorium.

In 1900 and 1904, the second and third Olympic Games were held in Paris and St. Louis, respectively. They were total disasters. Overshadowed in most ways by the World’s Fairs in those cities, they lasted months with little ceremony or sense. Some people participated and won events and didn’t learn that they were Olympians until decades later, so poorly organized were the second and third Olympics. Perhaps the ultimate farce of the early Olympiads was the 1904 marathon, an event so bizarre and heinous that nothing, not even a 21-minute comedic documentary, can do it justice. The Olympics were in such rough straits that a now-unofficial 1906 Olympics were held in Athens to try and restore some dignity to the affair.

Then, in 1908, the Olympics were held in London. It was the fifth edition of the Olympics (counting 1906), but finally, the Olympics began to become THE Olympics. The stands were packed, athletes from nearly every occupied continent attended, and it paved the way for future Olympics, such as Stockholm 1912, that further built the Olympics into what we know today.

It is likely too early to say that the 2023 World Baseball Classic (the fifth installment) was the one where the World Baseball Classic became THE World Baseball Classic, but as I begin writing this in the hours after Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout‘s epic face-off in the championship game (I finished it a little over a day after), it is safe to say that, even if it isn’t, it has paved the way for the one that will.

Consider, for example, the hard numbers. The television ratings were off-the-scale, even in the up-until-now apathetic USA. Over five million watched the finale in America, despite it being on FS1 instead of regular FOX. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that if it had been on regular FOX that it would have pulled in ratings normally reserved only the World Series, perhaps even more.

And yet, that is nothing compared to the ratings in other countries. In Japan, over 40% of televisions were on for most if not all of Samurai Japan’s games, a figure that in America is only reserved for Super Bowls and earth-shattering breaking news. In Puerto Rico, the figure for their win-and-advance game against the Dominican was 62%. Viewership was up 35% in Korea and an absurd 151% in Taiwan, despite the fact that neither of their teams ended up advancing. Even the Czech Republic, where baseball is a niche sport at best and their team was made up almost entirely of amateurs and semi-pros, had record viewership of up to 240,000 in their game against Japan. While that may not seem like a lot, consider that the population of the Czech Republic is only 10.5 million, so that is over 2% of the Czech population, which is impressive for baseball in a country where it is so little-followed.

Then there is attendance. It did great, drawing over a million fans. Eleven of the 15 games in Miami, the hub of the tournament this time, were sellouts. While there were certainly some games (usually involving teams with little connection to the local crowd) that were sparsely attended, there were far fewer than past tournaments.

Third, player participation. With a few notable exceptions, almost every position player who you would want in the tournament was either in the tournament or had a valid excuse (like an injury or being on a new team). The pitchers, of course, remained an issue, but even there aside from the USA it felt like there were more taking part than previous times.

But most of all, it had an unstoppable, intangible buzz around it, from which the other three things I’ve mentioned flowed. It felt like every day had some new amazing story: the electrician who struck out Ohtani, the Nicaraguan pitcher signed after striking out three Dominican stars, the five-way tie insanity of the Taiwan pool, and countless others, all culminating with the made-for-Hollywood showdown between Trout and Ohtani. Nothing could stop it, not even the horrible injury to Edwin Diaz (outside of certain people who I will not name). In fact, after the injuries to Diaz and Jose Altuve, players outright spoke about how much they cared about the tournament and how much they hope it continues. The love that the players have for the tournament is infectious. Already, Bob Nightengale reports that Aaron Judge has already privately told friends he intends to take part next time.

The World Baseball Classic will return in 2026. Where it sneaked up on many of the non-believers this season, it won’t then. No, for this was quite possibly the year where the World Baseball Classic had its 1908 moment. When it ceased to be just the World Baseball Classic in name, but became the World Baseball Classic that we know going forward.


2023 World Baseball Classic Pool D Preview: Miami

South Beach lifeguard stands at Miami by Carol M Highsmith is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

We continue our WBC Pool previews with Pool D: Miami.

About the Venue: LoanDepot Park, formerly Marlins Park, opened in 2012 and seats 37,422. Generally regarded as more of a pitcher’s park, it will also host the knockout rounds of the WBC this time around.

About The Pool: In sports, the best and toughest pool to find yourself in is called the Pool of Death or Group of Death. This is the WBC’s group of death. It has three teams with legitimate shots at winning the tournament, another that has made it past the first round before, and a fifth that comes from a country with a long baseball history. Only two teams can get through.

Go below the jump for the full preview.

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2023 World Baseball Classic Pool C Preview: Arizona

The Arizona state flag flies by Carol M Highsmith is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

We continue our WBC Pool previews with Pool C: Arizona

About the Venue: Chase Field, formerly known as Bank One Ballpark, is the home of the Arizona Ballpark. It has a retractable roof, seats for over 48,400 people, and a pool. While long considered a hitters park, the introduction of a humidor has led it to be a bit more pitcher-friendly.

About The Pool: This is the North America pool, more or less, with three of the five teams coming from the continent. The Great Britain team will also have plenty of North Americans. The fifth team is Colombia. The USA, even after losing two of its top pitchers, must be considered the favorite to win the pool, but at least three of the other teams could beat them on any given day. Canada, Mexico, and possibly Colombia will fight for the other spot out of the tournament.

Go below the jump for the full preview.

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2023 World Baseball Classic Pool B Preview: Tokyo

We continue our WBC Pool previews with Pool B: Tokyo.

About the Venue: The Tokyo Dome is the largest baseball stadium in the largest metropolitan area in the world and the go-to place for MLB events in Japan. Holding over 45 thousand fans for baseball, the air-supported dome is normally home to the Yomiuri Giants, the most successful team in Japanese baseball. The “Big Egg” has symmetrical dimensions (329 to the corners, 375 to the alleys, 400 to center) and has over the years also played host to concerts, boxing (including Mike Tyson‘s infamous defeat at the hands of Buster Douglas), professional wrestling, NFL exhibition games, and mixed martial arts. It is also the location of Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame.

About The Pool: It’s not quite accurate to call this the “Pacific pool”, since the Czech Republic is there, but it’s pretty close: four of the five teams are on the Pacific Ocean. Japan and Korea are definitely the big names here, but Australia is always scrappy and could pull an upset. China and the Czech Republic will likely prove canon fodder to the larger teams but should still be interesting to watch given how rarely we see their players against top competition.

Go below the jump for the full preview.

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2023 World Baseball Classic Pool Previews: Introduction/Glossary

We are less than a month from the start of the 2023 World Baseball Classic, and this week I’ll be doing pool previews.

But first, an explanation of what will be included in each pool’s preview.

First off, each pool will have the following:

About the Venue: Info on the stadium where it will take place. Pretty self-explanatory.

About The Pool: A general overview of the pool. Summing up the basic storylines to keep an eye on.

Pool Outlook: My outright predictions for the pool.

For every country, there will be these bits:

About The Country: Again, largely self-explanatory. Just a bit about the country, its history, etc. Probably will include a fun fact, as well!

Baseball History: The history of baseball in that country. Needless to say, this can vary greatly.

International Baseball History: The history of the country in the WBC, Olympics, and other international play.

Road to the WBC: How the team qualified for this WBC. For most countries, this will basically be “did well enough in the last WBC.”

(Insert Country Name Here)’s Baseball League: Info on the current structure of baseball in that country- what their top league is, etc.

(Insert Country Name Here) MLB Players: A look at MLB players from that country through history as well as how many (if any) are on the team.

Notable names: The most notable players on the team.

Highest Achievers: Other notable players who have reached highest in the continuum of baseball leagues.

Ones to Watch: Generally will be for younger players who aren’t really well-known or MLB now, but could be in the future.

Manager/Coaching Staff: A bit about the manager and coaching staff of the team.

Outlook: General overview of the country/team and how they might do in the pool.

We start tomorrow with Pool A!