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The WBC issue

March 4, 2009

After the 1998 season I had the honor of being asked to play for the MLB All Star team that traveled to Japan to take on their best. Every 2 years MLB sends a team there to showcase the game and it’s players.

Team was made up of some pretty incredible talent. Kendall, Javy Lopez, Giambi, Garciaparra, Manny, Garrett Andersion, Sosa, Delgado, Wagner, Leiter, Hoffman, Gordon and more. I think our starting lineup in game 1 had 300+ home runs….

At the time I had no real idea, but it would prove to be the wrong decision. The team took the month of October off, and met in early November to work out and fly over.

The problem didn’t surface, for me anyway, until we got over there and walked onto the field. See prepping for something like this was much like Spring Training. We hit, we threw bullpens, but replicating the energy and adrenalin of playing in front of 50+ thousand screaming fans is impossible.

The WBC is no different in my opinion, and actually you could argue far worse. Without a season of conditioning you are tasked with ‘ramping it up’ at a time when slow methodical preparation is the norm. I’ve always felt and looked at the pre-season as a multi-layered process.

That first step is when you start long tossing.
The second step, or next ‘push’ from a physical exertion standpoint happens when you get on the mound.
Step three is batting practice.
Step four is that first spring game.
Step five is a real game.

Those steps happen rather easily right up to the last 2. Going into that first spring game for me was a huge jump in effort and energy. Live hitters, wearing different uniforms, fans in the stands.

That final step is one you just can’t ‘be ready’ for until you are truly ‘ready’. Until you’ve worked your pitch counts up, had a tough outing or two in the spring, stepping into a ML stadium full of fans ramps it to a whole new level.

Say what you want about the fact that the games ‘don’t count’ or ‘aren’t real’ but I can speak as a pitcher to the fact that those games, to me anyway, were live ‘get after it’ events.

I can’t speak to position players because their lives and their preparation are so vastly different than pitchers, but I can tell you as a pitcher that the last thing on this planet I would want to do would be to be asked to go ‘full tilt’ (and make no mistake about it, what you are seeing from them is everything they have at that point) at this incredibly early time in the season.

I said when we returned from Japan that I would never do it again. It was an awesome experience but I was as sore as I’d ever been (and ultimately wound up with a shoulder injury and was operated on, as were 3 other pitchers on the team) and I think the tour hurt my chances of being healthy immensely.

If I were, and I know I am not, a GM I would have some sort of protection in contracts prohibiting any pitchers on my 40 man roster from participating.

I completely understand the desire to get the global appeal of baseball out there, however I’m of the opinion it already is. I think it’s much more valuable to the Japanese market to have Dice pitching in October, in the World Series, than in the Baseball classic. One thing about Dice though, and Japanese pitchers in particular, is I don’t think they ever experience true ‘down time’ during the off season. It could be a completely different mind set and approach for them because for all I know (and it could certainly be the case) he shows up at spring training ready to throw 110 pitches on day 1.

It does make for good theater in some cases, but to ask ML pitchers to get lineups of the quality these countries are running out on a daily basis, at this date on the calendar, is asking for trouble when you are truly trying to win, which I think they are.

28 Comments leave one →
  1. Rhayader permalink
    March 4, 2009 1:10 pm

    Cool post. As I fan I love the idea of the WBC, but it definitely raises questions like this. The health and well-being of players making millions every year is no trivial matter.

    I have heard a couple ideas on ESPN and such about re-scheduling the tournament for the all-star break (terrible idea) or after the post-season. I guess it’s worth looking into, but I think ultimately there is no way to do it that avoids the problems Curt is talking about. These guys put enormous strain on their bodies, and messing with their routines and rest periods is probably not a good thing.

    To me, major league baseball is the ultimate world stage for the game. The league doesn’t care where you were born; if you have the skills you get on the field. In my mind, that makes it a true international game. Sure the WBC and similar ideas are interesting to we fans, but nothing comes close to close races in September and dogfight series in October. That is where baseball truly shines, and that is what should be marketed to the world at large.

  2. sdl1 permalink
    March 4, 2009 1:32 pm

    As a long-time follower of the International baseball scene, I’m a fan of the Classic. I can agree that the Spring timing of it is possibly arong. You’ll note that IBAF usually holds their World Cup after the season and the USA will send minor leaguers not on a 25 man roster. USA won it in 2007…first time in 33 years with Evan Longoria and Andy LaRoche as some of the stars on that team.

    What MLB should do is let the major leaguers play in the post-season IBAF World Cup. Certainly would bring more prestige to the event. But until they do, the WBC is what we have to live with. I am gratified that they’ve imposed pitch limits which should reduce chances of injury.

    I look forward to seeing Alfredo Despaigne of Cuba in this event. If Obama ever lifts the stupid embargo, you will see scouts falling all over themselves trying to sign this kid. He is that good!

    But I will end with this…which shows where my loyalties lie…

    HOEP HOLLAND!!

  3. RachelC permalink
    March 4, 2009 2:59 pm

    Don’t a lot of pitchers play in winter leagues? I know that is not the same level of pressure or competition, but it’s a similar idea.

    I’ve always wondered about professional athletes’ yearly training regimens. Isn’t it better to keep working hard all year than to work your body like mad for 5-9 months, then rest (relatively) for several months, than “ramp it up” again for half or more of the year, etc, etc, etc?

  4. Zadok F. permalink
    March 4, 2009 3:46 pm

    It’s too bad the problem can’t be fixed–because in a lot of ways, the WBC is more interesting than the World Series.

    Perhaps, Daisuke Matsuzaka’s routine explains why he runs out of gas after August. His ERA in September is 5.53 so far for Boston.

  5. Shindig permalink
    March 4, 2009 5:17 pm

    The thing is is that the World Baseball Classic is a great chance to truly represent your country. That opportunity is not afforded outside of the Olymics (not even sure they have it there any more), which was always a mickey mouse tournament.

    Can’t the solution be to shorten the regular season schedule? A 162 game schedule is twice the length of any other major sport, and is needlessly excessive. Would it be possible to reduce it to a 150-game schedule, take a 3-week pause in the middle of the season around the All Star Break, and have a two week tournament somewhere in between that? This will probably never happen – the loss of revenue would be enough to deter it – but if the World Baseball Classic were allowed to grow, I think it would be hugely beneficial for the sport.

  6. seth coop permalink
    March 4, 2009 5:19 pm

    curt,
    ZZZZZZZZzzzzzzz……
    your routine is TIRED!!

    go out to pasture…… turn the page.

  7. Dana Kiecker permalink
    March 4, 2009 7:13 pm

    110 pitches for Dice BB , wouldnt get him out of the third inning.

  8. Scott permalink
    March 4, 2009 7:20 pm

    Nice post Curt, I really think that the WBC is a waste

  9. March 4, 2009 11:02 pm

    This is why I’ve kept passing this possibility around:

    WBC starts when MLB reg. season ends.
    Players on MLB postseason teams are (obviously) not eligible. (This gets rid of a lot of “star” players, but not all.)
    Div. and Champ. series are played at the same times as the intro games of the WBC.
    Stretch things out (or crunch down, depending on who’s schedule we’re following) in order to have the WBC championship happen in the week off between the Champ. Series and the World Series.

    Not only does this mean that people are going to be well rested and geared up to go, but this also gives players that might not be on the greatest teams (in the MLB, at least) a chance to go to their own “postseason”… similar to the NIT for college basketball.

    Just thoughts and ramblings that I saw posted, refined, and am now passing around as a suggestion. You make some very good points in your post as well.

    -Nic
    http://wordstoplayby.wordpress.com

  10. TVo permalink
    March 5, 2009 12:06 am

    Curt,
    It was a pleasure meeting you over the weekend at ESPN the Weekend! hoping you are a regular there! Sorry about getting mobbed at some places. Hope you still enjoyed the experience overall!

    FYI, I was the guy who asked the Baseball Tonight crew to debate if you are a Hall of Famer and felt you are! I appreciated your humble honest response! You are a good guy! Take Care!

    gackball24@yahoo.com

  11. Donna permalink
    March 5, 2009 12:44 am

    Curt,
    This is a really great post,both in topic and the way you expressed it. I totally agree with you. As much as it is nice to see the mutual pride between the players and their respective countries,it does take away from the whole idea of spring training. It is not just a player getting prepared for the upcoming season,which some can do while playing in the WBC,but also working out with the other players on your team,working together to prepare for the season. If the differnt players on any given team are all over the place,then there is no chance for preparation as a team. Here in New York,they have been showing spring training games on television and almost none of the “regular” season players are even there,as many are playing in the WBC. I am so glad that the New York Mets did not allow Santana to go to the WBC,as he would have liked,because he is too important to the team to risk an injury before the season even begins. Thank You for sharing your thoughts with us,as always,and for giving your insight,your perspective on it. I always welcome and value your point of view.

  12. March 5, 2009 12:52 am

    Seth coop,
    Take a rest,take a nap,or simply go away. This topic is not “tired” as it has not been addressed here before and in case you have not noticed,the rest of us are enjoying having a discussion regarding it. If you think what is posted here is tired,then why are you reading it or responding to it? You are the one who should be put out to pasture or perhaps somewhere else,but certainly you and your comments should NOT be put here. Your complaining and comments trashing Curt and what is written here(not only today but other days as well)is quite frankly what I am getting tired of. You should turn the page and move on from this site. Curt,keep doing what you have been doing,as the rest of us appreciate it and want it to continue.

  13. sdl1 permalink
    March 5, 2009 4:22 am

    To Nic Lake..

    Go to http://www.ibaf.org and look up the history of the IBAF World Cup. Also go to the USA Baseball site http://www.usabaseball.com Go to the slumni section and see how many big leaguers played in the Cup (USA Baseball only has players from 1984 on listed on their site). I agree with your setting the time for International tournaments after the regular season ends. Look at some of the International Hockey tournaments…they are held at the same time as the Stanley Cup playoffs. Players who teams didn’t make the playoffs are on those teams and when a team is eliminated from the playoffs, their players can then play for their country.

  14. bill permalink
    March 5, 2009 7:45 pm

    ball players make to much money i guess to suck it up and play for there country,if you get hurt you get hurt, have some honor

  15. Marc Goldman permalink
    March 5, 2009 10:58 pm

    You bring up great points about how much more risk there is for a pitcher in the WBC. The very nature of pitching and the fact the very action of throwing a baseball as an elite pitcher does is not in concert with the structure of the human body makes it logical that throwing pitches “in anger” so early in the year is risky at best.

    But OTOH Curt you are a bright man and one who appears to be moving on to be a businessman. So you must understand the marketing, globalization and survival issues that led MLB to want to create the WBC.

    So, if Curt was Commish for a day, aside from banning Barry Bonds from every record book (j/k) how would you make the WBC work. WBC is clearly a forward thinking tactic and keeping baseball a relevant player by creating a global MLB following?

    It is clear that this process could be improved. What IYHO does MLB need to do and what does the MLBPA need to agree to to make this work. The industry is going to hit a wall unless that happens, so what do you think that is?

  16. joelc10 permalink
    March 6, 2009 10:03 am

    Heard Curt on WEEi this morning talking about his potential come. I don’t know how he walks with an entire radio station stuck up his rear, but that is another issue. Curt, you will never pich for the Cubs because we all no that you would never speek badly against anyone you have to face again in baseball or in public. With the Cubs, the Dodgers and Manny (who is also a pathetic fraud) would expose you for the over the hill has has been that you are. Thank you for 2004, now retire and go away.

  17. JCarson permalink
    March 6, 2009 3:59 pm

    I suggest that MLB shorten the regular season by the length of time required to host the WBC. (The first live game of the WBC would occur when Opening Day currently does.) Of course there will be some resistance to that idea, as the owners would have fewer regular season games and hence less revenue. And there may be other problems I’m not aware of.

  18. March 6, 2009 8:23 pm

    I think the WBC is good idea in theory, but not in practice. At least not the way its currently being done (although I don’t know of a better way). You cant do it at the end of the season because the players need the rest.

    While part of my loves to see Chipper out there playing in front of the world, another part of me cringes every time he swings funny or anything else. He hasn’t exactly had the best luck with injuries the past few years.

  19. Jeff Mills permalink
    March 6, 2009 11:52 pm

    IMHO the WBC should take place after the season, not during the spring. Spring training should be a time for players to get ready for the regular season, not play for two weeks in a mini-Olympics. Plus, and I’ll probably get hate mail for this, why is an American like Alex Rodriguez wanting to play for the Dominican Republic? If you’re born in the USA then you’re an American IMHO. Of course, Alex is not even going to playing at all in the WBC, but why wouldn’t he play for his country? He didn’t have a problem with it 3 years ago.

    Also, when will MLB take a break from promoting the game all over the world and do it right here at home? It is wonderful to see Latinos, Hispanics, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Canadian players in the game, but at the same time African-Americans are becoming an endangered species in MLB. They’re turning to basketball and football and some of them regard blacks who are into baseball as “sellouts.” MLB has done an abysmal job over the years at promoting the game of baseball in the inner cities although there are good guys like Jimmy Rollins and Torii Hunter who are working with groups lik RBI to fix that problem.

    It never ceases to frustrate me how a game which year in and year out talks about how great Jackie Robinson was and pays homage to him so much continues to overlook the dearth of African-Americans in front office and management positions and in the stands. Good for you MLB in promoting the game abroad. But how about remembering where you came from?

  20. empldy permalink
    March 7, 2009 3:27 am

    There is something definitely wrong when a major league baseball team is in spring training and so many of the great players are not there because they are off playing elsewhere in the WBC. I watched a baseball game today and between 12 and 15 of the regular players for the team were not even at spring training,not only not in the game but not there at all. ANd the New York Mets,who sent so many players to the WBC,just lost another one because he is going to replace ALex Rodriguez in the WBC. This is not the way that players should prepare for the regular upcoming season.

  21. March 7, 2009 9:46 am

    Players take off for the WBC but put their season into jeopardy. The WBC is good for the promotion of Baseball across the World but it should not affect the Regular season.

    Please help me to raise $1,000 for The Jimmy Fund. Please checkout http://www.buzzcal.com/blog for details.

  22. NYM2009 permalink
    March 7, 2009 11:04 pm

    As a baseball fan I want to watch the WBC over spring training. Also. If this can get anywhere near the level of the World Cup then It will do wonders for baseball internationally.

  23. Craig Saunders permalink
    March 9, 2009 7:01 am

    Two points: a lot of these players play winter ball, and therefore are not as cold going into the Classic as one would expect. And secondly, if asked to represent your country, most players would jump at that chance. That said, having a clause in a contract stating they are unable to play in the WBC is smart. The question is, who would agree to that?

  24. crappygeorge permalink
    March 10, 2009 11:37 am

    The thing about the WBC is… here in america… we dont give a crap about it. Not one single, little, turd. The major baseball markets (Boston, New York, Atlanta, etc) are all holding their breath, hoping their players come back healthy to help their REAL teams win a title. Call me unpatriotic if you want, but I wanna cheer for my players on my team while we pound the Yankees… I could care less that we beat a makeshift Canada team and some Venezuelan farmers with Miguel Cabrera mixed in. (It is nice to see Youk hittin bombs though… he better save a few or 35 for us this season)

  25. bake permalink
    March 15, 2009 2:27 pm

    Couldn’t agree with you more.

    bake

  26. Pattijor permalink
    March 18, 2009 10:36 pm

    Why the WBC? Because everyone knows, in the world of sports, there just weren’t enough opportunities for male baseball players.

    I cringe when I see Sox players in that stupid thing. Esp. Pedro and Youk, cuz you know they’ll go all out – all the time. uggh :=(

  27. March 19, 2009 3:43 pm

    I totally agree & I’m just a kid. I said that wehn the Sox went to Japan & I said the same thing when they announced the WBC line ups. I also want to say I’m a HUGE fan of yours & hope you heal and come back to pitch for the Red Sox. You Rock!

  28. Bud permalink
    March 25, 2009 1:47 pm

    Don’t worry about it. No one cares what you think about the WBC.

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