Baseball Continuum Weekly: The Case for the World Baseball Classic

With the 2017 World Baseball Classic coming up, there is some legitimate concern for the future of the event. With the event still having trouble drawing in American players, TV deals coming to an end, a reported decrease in revenue compared to some of the earlier Classics, and baseball (at least for now) back in the Olympics, there is a chance that this coming WBC could be the last- at least as we know it- for awhile.

I’m here to argue for the future of the WBC, however, and why it should stick around with four reasons why. There are more reasons, but they are more “inside baseball” (politics, marketing, funding, etc.) so I won’t go into them.

Here we go:

1. The concept remains a good one.

While the execution has always been a bit wonky due to the event’s placement in March (the result of it being the best option due to there being no perfect time for the event), the concept remains sound: a baseball tournament between national teams. It is a simple but fun idea that provides lots of interesting possibilities and brings exposure to countries and players who normally don’t get seen.

2. It is more popular (and gets better ratings) than people think.

While it is true that ratings dropped greatly from 2009 to 2013, this more had to do with the fact that the games were moved to MLB Network from ESPN (if I remember correctly, it had to do with MLB wanting to further incentivize people having MLB Network). Still, those games still ended up being among the most watched events on MLB Network in history outside of postseason baseball, and the final of the 2013 Classic was the most-watched baseball game in the history of ESPN Deportes at the time.

This doesn’t include ratings from outside the Mainland USA. In Puerto Rico, for example, 74 percent (!!) of TVs turned on there watched the 2013 semi-finals where Puerto Rico upset Japan.

In addition, I anecdotally know that the WBC does well on social media, often getting topics “trending” on Twitter even when NCAA basketball is also going on.

So maybe the WBC isn’t as hated as people think?

3. It is a lot of fun. Definitely a lot more fun than Spring Training.

Even if the WBC cannot be truly considered an accurate determinant of what the best national baseball team in the world is, and even if it is at times a sideshow… what a fun sideshow it is! It certainly is more fun than lazy spring training games or, even worse, nothing at all!

Don’t believe me? Then you’ve probably never watched the WBC. That is the weird thing about the World Baseball Classic: those who have actually watched it seem to love it, while those who have never given it a chance seem to hate it.

Perhaps it is no surprise that some of the WBC’s biggest critics have been beat writers, who by necessity are focused nearly 100% on any given team and thus are likely to be covering a spring training game or doing some other story when the WBC is on, or they are taking a breather from baseball because that is what they had been covering all day. This isn’t their fault. In fact, it is proof they are doing a good job- they are working to get their readers the latest scoop on the Yankees/Mets/Red Sox/whoever just like they are supposed to. It does, however, mean that they have less time to actually watch the WBC and see what is good about it.

But anyway, that leads to my last bit…

4. The WBC is still young, and it can take time for things like this to catch on.

The early modern Olympics could be rated as anywhere from “qualified success” (1896) to “total and utter disaster” (1900 and 1904). It wasn’t until 1908 in London (the fourth Olympiad!) that it became anything close to the big deal it is today. Early World Cups lacked many top European squads, to the extent that in the first World Cup (1930) the United States finished third despite the fact that soccer was about the 19th most popular sport in America at the time, sitting somewhere between jai alai and the competitive beating-up of drifters. Okay, that last bit was an exaggeration. Somewhat.

It’s not just these big international events, though. The World Series was boycotted in 1904 because Jon McGraw considered it beneath him (and the 1903 World Series, contrary to popular belief, wasn’t the first showdown between the champions of two baseball leagues), and the first Super Bowl failed to sell out.

But what I am getting at here is that these things take time. With the exception of super-duper-why-haven’t-we-done-this-already-obvious ideas like the College Football Playoff, few things catch on immediately in sports.

So, the World Baseball Classic is still young. Only three tournaments have taken place. Why end it before it has truly had time to grow?

Next time on Baseball Continuum Weekly: BIZARRE BASEBALL CULTURE!

 

 

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“Woah, Cubs, Woah”: A song

(To be sung to the tune of “Go Cubs Go”)

Baseball season’s done today

But you better get woken for a whole new way

Hey, Chicago, how do you say

The Cubs have finally won the day!

They’re singing …

Woah, Cubs, woah

Woah, Cubs, woah

Hey, Chicago, how do you say

The Cubs have finally won the day!

Woah, Cubs, woah

Woah, Cubs, woah

Hey, Chicago, how do you say

The Cubs have finally won the day!

They had the power, they had the speed

They were the best in the National League

Well it was the year and the Cubs were real

Fans came on down to Wrigley Field.

They’re singing now …

Woah, Cubs, woah

Woah, Cubs, woah

Hey, Chicago, how do you say

The Cubs have finally won the day!

Woah, Cubs, woah

Woah, Cubs, woah

Hey, Chicago, how do you say

The Cubs have finally won the day.

Baseball time was here again

Just like the days of old WGN

They stamped their feet and clapped their hands

Chicago Cubs got the greatest fans.

They’re singing now …

Woah, Cubs, woah

Woah, Cubs, woah

Hey, Chicago, how do you say

The Cubs have finally won the day!

Woah, Cubs, woah

Woah, Cubs, woah

Hey, Chicago, how do you say

The Cubs have finally won the day.

Postcards before the Baseball Apocalypse: Thoughts before the 2016 World Series

Well, I guess the Nationals didn’t make the World Series, huh? And now, random unorganized thoughts on the World Series we ARE getting:

Something’s gotta give

As I’m sure you know and will no doubt be reminded 1,908 times, this is a match-up of “cursed” teams. The Cubs, obviously, haven’t won a World Series since 1908 and hadn’t even been to one before this year since 1945, when a goat was infamously refused admission to Wrigley Field, leading to the infamous “Curse of the Billy Goat”. Cleveland, meanwhile, hasn’t won a World Series since 1948, and is said to have been cursed to never do so again because of the trading of popular star Rocky Colavito in 1960. Others, however, say that the curse is actually the “Curse of Wahoo”, which fates the Indians to runner-up status until they remove the unquestionably politically-incorrect red-faced smile from their uniforms entirely (the Indians have made it much less prominent recently, but it’s still there).

Unless you count the three different Washington baseball franchises as one line of tradition (and most don’t), these are the two most snake-bitten teams in basically all of North American sports. One of them has to break a curse here, right? Or are we doomed for an endless series where the extra innings spread on until Baseball Armageddon?

Andrew Miller, Destroyer of Worlds

It’s hard to put into words how great Andrew Miller has been lately, and how well Terry Francona has used him. Ignoring the outdated orthodoxy that caused even the relatively-maverick Buck Showalter to hold Zack Britton for a save opportunity that never came, Francona deploys his best pitcher when he’s most needed.

And for that reason, it is going to be imperative that the Cubs score early and probably often. Because Miller Time probably means another year without a World Series title if they don’t.

Kyle “Kirk Gibson” Schwarber

I’m looking forward to seeing Kyle Schwarber, making his first appearance since getting injured all the way back in April. He’ll only be DHing and perhaps pinch-hitting, but with his bat, that could easily mean we might see a Kirk Gibson moment where a player who has no business being in the game delivers a magical moment.

Or maybe he’ll be a total non-factor who strikes out. Where’s the fun in that, though?

Terry vs. Theo

Amazingly, the fact that Theo Epstein’s team is facing Terry Francona’s team hasn’t gotten as much play as I thought it would. I mean, it’s been brought up a lot, but not as much as I thought it would have. Probably because of the bigger storylines going around.

Blah, Blah, Blah, get to your prediction:

Cubs in 6.

Why?

Depth. I think that the Indians can win match and defeat the Cubs at the top of the rotations and with the bullpen, but the deeper lineup for the Cubs and starting rotation give them the overall edge. To rewrite a song: “Hey Chicago, what do you say, the Cubs have finally won the day!”

 

My sure-to-be-wrong predictions for the postseason

Before the year, I predicted that the Washington Nationals would win it all. Therefore, I must stick with that prediction.

But I’m not confident in it. I made that prediction assuming that Bryce Harper wouldn’t fall off (he did, due to injuries) and that Stephen Strasburg would be healthy (nope). Still, they definitely are a team that can win it all. They just aren’t the favorite anymore.

So, without further ado, my predictions for the postseason, sure to be wrong (the team with home field comes SECOND here):

AL WILD CARD: Neither Chris Tillman or Marcus Stroman have done that great down the stretch, but with the lineups behind them that hasn’t been that big of a deal. Make no mistake: this game could become a slugfest. However, I’m going to give the edge (barely) to the Orioles, because I have more faith in their bullpen, and Zack Britton in particular. Of course, a one-game playoff is a total crapshoot, so who the heck knows?

NL WILD CARD: Folks, I’ve checked the calendar, and it’s October. And Madison Bumgarner is pitching. Sorry, Mets. Giants win, although, again… one-game playoffs are crapshoots.

ALDS ORIOLES/RANGERS: Man, are the Rangers the most anonymous best-record-in-the-AL team in years or what? A lot of people seem to have just assumed that the Red Sox had the best record, but they didn’t. Anyway, I think that the Rangers will win this series in 4, as they A) are the better team and B) have better pitching.

ALDS INDIANS/RED SOX: The Red Sox may not have had the best record in the AL, but they probably were the best team. The Indians, meanwhile, played like how many people thought they’d play last season. This probably will be the best series in the Division Series round (barring a Blue Jays-Rangers rematch), but I think the Red Sox win it in 5.

NLDS DODGERS/NATIONALS: Again, I am duty-bound to pick the Nationals (I’ll say in 5), but if I weren’t duty-bound to do so I probably would pick the Dodgers, who are coming into the postseason hotter and with Clayton Kershaw healthy again. Still, the Nationals are still a very good team, and maybe the bad luck that seems to haunt Kershaw every damn October- as well as the Dodgers’ own injury problems- will pop up again.

NLDS GIANTS/CUBS: If I were not duty-bound to pick the Nationals, I’d probably say the Cubs would finally win it all this year. They may well be the most complete team in baseball, and I think they will defeat the Giants in 4.

ALCS RED SOX/RANGERS: This could be a good series, and I’m sure the FOX will be happy to know that I think the Red Sox would win in 6 due to their better depth and what my gut is telling me.

NLCS NATIONALS/CUBS: Again, duty-bound to pick the Nationals, although logically I think the Cubs would win. So… Nationals in 7.

WORLD SERIES NATIONALS/RED SOX: I have a feeling this series would either be a short 4-5 game victory for the Red Sox, or a 6-7 game victory of the Nationals. You can guess what I think it’d be based on what I’ve said so far.

World Baseball Classic Update (9-30-16)

It’s time for a WBC Update!

First off, as you probably saw, Israel won it’s qualifying pool and is headed to the main WBC tournament.

Secondly, White Sox instructor Luis Sierra, who was a first-base coach for Colombia in the WBC Qualifiers, will again coach for Colombia in the main tournament next year.

Adam Jones says he will play for Team USA again if asked. Also in Team USA news, they are said to be looking at Brian Dozier of the Twins as a possible member.

The Seattle Times ran an article on Mariners who may be playing in the WBC. Robinson Cano is all-in for the Dominican, of course, and so is Nelson Cruz. Dae-Ho Lee says he’ll play for Korea is he’s asked, and Felix Hernandez wants to play for Venezuela again (he wasn’t able to in 2013 due to contract stuff). Reliever Edwin Diaz wants to play for his native Puerto Rico. As for Americans, Kyle Seager said he’d love to play, although he admits the depth of American baseball means he could end up staying in Spring Training or sitting on the bench.

While not “news”, per se, you should still read Lindsey Adler’s awesome article on Pakistani baseball.

Until next time, this has been Dan Glickman with your WBC update.

 

There are changes coming to the Baseball Continuum

If you follow me on other sites, you’ll know that I have begun a job at a local TV network here in Rochester. And that means that my schedule and priorities have changed, and thus so must the Baseball Continuum.

No, it’s not closing. Far from it. But it is going to be less frequently updated, with longer pieces making up for the lack of daily updates. I’m totally ditching MVP of Yesterday (since I’m not sure anybody read it anyway) and by extension the Mr. Octobers tracking I’ve done in previous years. In addition, you’ll probably see less from me on days where I work, simply due to time constraints.

That said, the usual features, as well as WBC coverage, will continue! So please, make sure to keep visiting the Baseball Continuum.

September 25th, the past, the future, and what lies between.

There are some days that burn themselves into the history of sports.

Some of them are for good reasons: Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier on April 15, 1947, for example.

Some of them are for bad reasons: September 5 and 6, 1972 were the days when the Munich Massacre happened at the Olympics.

And some of them are for reasons both good and bad: June 17, 1994 was perhaps the most eventful day in sports history. There was even a documentary about it. Game 5 of the NBA finals was in New York. The New York Rangers had their victory parade. The first World Cup on American soil began. Baseball wasn’t on strike yet. Arnold Palmer (I’ll get back to him) played his final US Open round. Overshadowing it all, though, was Buffalo Bills legend OJ Simpson in a white Bronco.

Yesterday, September 25, 2016 was one of the last kinds of those days. The mixed kind. For you see, yesterday saw both the past and the future die. It also saw the present live.

Jose Fernandez was the future. An immigrant who fled Cuba after years of trying, diving into the water to save his mother during the trip. He pitched with a joy that few have seen, and his pitching brought that same joy to all except those who opposed him. His determination was also legendary: when he arrived in America at 15, he was by all accounts a far cry from the stud pitcher he became. It was only through hard work that he became a prospect, then a super-prospect, and then a ace.

And then he got hurt, and was mostly missing for two whole season.

And then he came back, better than he was before. A rising star who was an attraction by himself, and with endless potential ahead of him. One of the new faces of baseball, every bit as amazing as Trout, Harper, Machado and their ilk.

Except, in some ways, Fernandez was more than any of them. He represented the ideal of the game of baseball that in some ways has only existed in our minds. The game where everyone can play, regardless of where they come from or what language they can speak. The game where people can have fun like they had when they were kids, even if they are being paid absurd amounts of money. The game that is a game, not a war (like football).

And now he’s gone. A potential Hall of Fame career, up in smoke along the Florida coast, along with the lives of two of his friends. What he could have been, whether he could have met that potential and continued to bring so much joy to a game that at times desperately needs it… we will never know.

We do, however, know what Arnold Palmer had. He had quite the past. He wasn’t the greatest golfer ever, but he may have been the most famous, and with good reason. He has a drink named after him- not even Babe Ruth has that (he had to settle for a candy bar that officially isn’t even named after him). He loved the sport he played, and was one of the best at it. While it is tragic that he has passed, he lived a full life, and left his mark upon the sports world that his talent deserved.

Arnold Palmer, in other words, lived the life that Jose Fernandez could have lived.

Between mourning the lost future of Jose Fernandez and the glorious past of Arnold Palmer, the games went on, as they almost always do. It was full of the moments- good and bad and in-between- that define sports, and life. Vin Scully said goodbye to LA, yes, but there was also a walk-off HR to clinch the division. Football and golf went on, bringing their usual pains and triumphs. There is less than a week left to go in the MLB season, with some races still be decided, some careers still left to be finished and continued.

Yes, the games go on. They won’t show us what Jose Fernandez could have become, or what Arnold Palmer once was, but they will go on. And they will help us ease the pain and nostalgia, just as they help us forget the woes of everyday life on any given day.

After all, that’s what we love sports for, is it not?