The WBC issue
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.