Guest Author - Joe Mancini
The final round of the World Baseball Classic is now set, Puerto Rico will face Japan and the so-far unbeaten Dominican Republic will have a long-anticipated date with the upstart Netherlands, who beat them twice (and ousted them) in the 2009 session.
The WBC remains a work-in-progress for Major League Baseball. The conclave of the Baseball-Playing Peoples (as Winston Churchill might have put it) is still a mixed bag trying to find its identity and importance. There is little doubt that excitement is high in the nations that have made their way into the final round, but the fact is few Americans really care, although there if there are players involved from your favorite team, you have a slight cheering interest.
Baseball and the Olympics was never a good fit. For one thing, there is the impression that the International Olympic Committee thinks it too "American", ergo not to the taste of the rest of the world. And there is something to that, after all the World Series always takes place in U.S. cities and has a completely different flavor than the World Cup. All the same, the fact that the Summer Olympics occur in the midst of baseball season, and the fact that MLB wouldn't dream of interrupting its pennant races every four years, certainly has an effect on the arms-length nature of the two sporting organizations. We are going to see tension next season when the NHL will have to suspend its season to accommodate the Winter Olympics in Sochi. And I might point out that basketball is as uniquely "American" as baseball, yet its presence in the Olympics is unquestioned.
This to me gets at the desirability of team sports in the Olympics, especially teams made up of highly-paid professionals. The so-called "Olympic Spirit" supposedly extols individual effort and is, at least theoretically, not inclined towards professionalism. In the past, athletes were "amateurs", or at least they were supposed to be. Let me conclude this by saying that while I don't particularly care if the Olympics has baseball or not, I do find it objectionable that Women's Softball has similarly been disregarded by the IOC. This is an affront, and mostly because American women have been dominant in my opinion. Of course, the fact that the IOC could even consider eliminating wrestling, one of the foundational sports of the Olympic Games, an activity that helped to define the Olympics, is ample evidence of the strangeness of the decision-making process in that body. One American thing we know the IOC does like is the enormous amount of money US media and corporations funnel into their coffers.
Pardon the rant. One factor in this WBC that is good for the game is the continued success of the Netherlands team (made up, of course, of many big-leaguers from the Caribbean island of Curacao) and the Italian team, which similarly fields many MLB players of Italian heritage. The Netherlands has recently committed $14 million to establishing baseball facilities in their nation, and the growth of the game in Italy similarly proceeds apace, giving baseball a nice outpost in Europe to go along with the game's root-and-branch countries.