During Sunday night's WBC semifinal between Japan and the United States, Joe Morgan (in his inimitable way), rambled for a while about the various reasons many American stars chose to forgo the Classic.
One he kept repeating was that American players felt it was more important to prepare for the MLB season so they can "win a world championship." Our team, hurt by injuries, didn't have a first baseman on the roster (we used Mark DeRosa at that position).
The US lost 9-4.
Last night, Korea and Japan put on a remarkable display of pitching, clutch hitting, and defense that truly lived up to its billing as the most important game of the WBC. Korean fans banged drums and smashed their Thunderstix together.
Japanese fans waved flags by the hundreds and screamed their support for their beloved team.
Each country showed off the prowess of their biggest stars, with the game finally ending as Yu Darvish, Japan's premiere pitching phenom, struck out the last batter to make sure Ichiro's clutch two-out RBI single held up for a 5-3 victory in 10 innings.
The Japanese players took a gigantic flag for a victory lap while their fans went absolutely berserk and confetti rained down from the sky. Japan had cemented itself as a global baseball powerhouse with its second dramatic WBC title.
Meanwhile, Manny Ramirez went hitless in a Grapefruit game after spending months quibbling with the Dodgers over a few million dollars.
During the WBC, American fans barely attended. American players said they felt like they were the visiting team on their own soil, in their own stadiums. Games televised in the US barely registered in the Nielsen ratings at all.
Team USA executives and management treated the tournament like an exhibition, making sure everyone got in their work and not even bothering to bring in bench players (like Grady Sizemore) to compensate for injuries.
At least most of the players, management, and fans agreed on something (for perhaps the first time in the history of baseball): they didn't care about the WBC at all.
And around the world, broadcasts brought in huge numbers, Super Bowl numbers, while foreign teams full of their countries' best players tried their damndest to win every game.
Now, I understand some of the complaints players and fans have had about the WBC. It interrupts spring training. Our players aren't in shape yet. It increases the risk of injury. Some players don't get enough playing time. Sure, all of those complaints have some merit.
But if we look around, we'd notice that we're just about the only ones complaining. Daisuke Matsuzaka looked outstanding throughout the tournament and shut down the US lineup with nasty stuff.
Ichiro was in absolutely spotless condition, as were the vast majority of Korean and Japanese players.
These guys aren't amateurs. They get paid, and paid quite well, to play baseball in their respective countries. But they were out there, putting it all on the line for a chance to represent their countries and entertain their fans.
They played with fire and passion. They played like they loved the game and their countries more than they loved their contracts and their individual teams. They played like it was for a world championship.
And they're right. It's ridiculous to call the World Series trophy a world championship. Maybe it was fifty years ago but those days are long gone. Baseball is more like soccer or basketball than American football, whether or we like it not.
It is played on every continent other than Antarctica (though it may be played there, I don't know), with high quality professional leagues throughout the world. And, as we have witnessed for a second time, the United States is not a dominating powerhouse.
It is one of many outstanding baseball nations, each with unique playing styles that make for great theater and incredibly baseball.
It's time to drop the act that we're the biggest, baddest baseball nation on Earth. Nobody believes that anymore, not after how we've struggled for two Classics in a row.
Character guys like Jake Peavy, Roy Oswalt, Derek Jeter, Kevin Youkilis, David Wright, and Ryan Braun all played their butts off to try to win a true world championship and we didn't even bother to show up and watch.
Even our management blew off the tournament, as demonstrated by Davey Johnson's horrendous pitching management and various personnel decisions, like having Derek Jeter at shortstop and Jimmy Rollins at DH.
How do we expect to win if we're disrespecting our players by treating their commitment to play as a joke? How can you expect our best players to show up if that's how we're going to treat their best efforts?
So I offer a challenge to the players, management, and fans of American baseball. In 2013, no matter what the format for the WBC, let's take it seriously. Let's send our best players out there in outstanding shape, ready to play some serious baseball.
Let's support them by showing up to the games and showing the passion that so many foreign fans demonstrated game after game. Let's put our allegiances to our local teams aside and put our love of our country right out front.
In short, let's get ready, really ready, to win a true world championship. Because we already know that the other teams are going to do everything they can to win.
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