Passion of 2017 World Baseball Classic Can Help Fuel the Future MLB Needs

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterMarch 23, 2017

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 22:  Adam Jones #10 of team United States shoes his USA shirt while teammate Giancarlo Stanton #27 holds the trophy after their 8-0 win over team Puerto Rico during Game 3 of the Championship Round of the 2017 World Baseball Classic at Dodger Stadium on March 22, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Did you see Marcus Stroman shaking his shoulders?

Silly question. Of course you did.

For a tournament "nobody cares about," there sure was a lot of buzz about the 2017 World Baseball Classic. If you live on the internet (and given that you're reading this, you probably do), it was hard to miss.

This was the fourth edition of the WBC, but it was the year the tournament grew up. This was the first time Team USA came out on top, which certainly helped, but there was more.

There were great games, for sure. Great performances, for sure. But there was passion, emotion, fun.

It was so much fun that after years of asking what Major League Baseball can do to save the WBC, the question some of us were asking Wednesday was what the WBC can do to help save baseball.

The game isn't failing. Far from it. But baseball is looking for ways to appeal to the next generation of fans, and what we saw over the last three weeks in Miami; Seoul, South Korea; Jalisco, Mexico; Tokyo, San Diego and Los Angeles provides a map toward baseball's best possible future.

Wednesday's championship game at Dodger Stadium was part of it, even though it ended as an 8-0 U.S. win over Puerto Rico, without the drama we saw in so many other games in WBC 2017. The drama pretty much ended when Stroman finally gave up his first hit in the seventh inning, with Team USA holding a 7-0 lead.  

No problem. This WBC already had moments that will live on, from the USA-Dominican Republic game in Miami to Adam Jones' stunning catch in San Diego to Israel's Mensch on the Bench that traveled from Brooklyn to Seoul to Tokyo.

This championship game already had Stroman. Stroman and his shoulder shake as he strutted off the mound in the third inning. Stroman and his shout toward the Puerto Rico dugout after he struck out Carlos Correa to end the fourth. Stroman and his emphatic nod and "oh yeah!" on his triumphant walk off the mound in the sixth.

Stroman, the 25-year-old kid from Long Island with a Duke degree, a Puerto Rican mother and a job with the Toronto Blue Jays, winning the Most Valuable Player award in baseball's international tournament.

Did you see the shoulder shake? Of course you did, but courtesy of an official WBC tweet, here it is again:

There was an unfortunate back-and-forth on Twitter earlier Wednesday after Team USA second baseman Ian Kinsler seemed to criticize the emotion shown by Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic players in the WBC.

"I hope kids watching the WBC can watch the way we play the game and appreciate the way we play the game as opposed to the way Puerto Rico plays or the Dominican plays," Kinsler told Billy Witz of the New York Times. "That's not taking anything away from them. That just wasn’t the way we were raised. They were raised differently and to show emotion and passion when you play. We do show emotion; we do show passion. But we just do it in a different way."

Kinsler clarified/backtracked in a Wednesday interview with ESPN's Marly Rivera—"Everybody has their own style! That's all I was saying."—but his initial comments gave anyone who wanted to criticize MLB and its traditions plenty of ammunition.

For many, the passion and fist pumping and blond-hair-dying and out-and-out fun we saw in the WBC is what draws us to the tournament. It's what we want to see more of in Major League Baseball, even as we understand it doesn't fully translate to a 162-game season.

Baseball's daily grind is beautiful, but there's room for more noise, more celebrations, more fun.

The old-school/new-school show-your-emotions vs. show-your-respect debate is nothing new. It's not limited to baseball (isn't the NFL the No Fun League?), and it's not limited to the WBC (did you ever see a David Ortiz home run?). It's also not limited to 2017, because when the Dominican Republic won the championship four years ago, the players all talked about how much fun it was to be able to show the passion they played with while growing up.

The difference this time was a lot more people were paying attention. With the help of Wednesday's enthusiastic crowd of 51,565 at Dodger Stadium, the WBC drew a record 1,086,720 fans this year, according to a tweet from MLB PR man John Blundell.

Earlier Wednesday, Commissioner Rob Manfred and players union chief Tony Clark held a news conference that had an air of celebration. Manfred and Clark believe in this tournament and believe it can lead to the growth of baseball around the world, and they proudly touted the quality of play and the improved attendance and television ratings.

"We've set ratings records and broken them for non-playoff games," Manfred said. "It’s been a great tournament."

It has its issues, for sure.

The timing is problematic, requiring pitch limits that change the game, especially in the first round. But there's no better time to play it, at least until it grows to the point it's worth interrupting seasons around the world.

The resistance from some major league players and teams is unfortunate. The best player in the world right now, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, has never agreed to play for Team USA. Noah Syndergaard of the New York Mets had a quote that stuck before the tournament. He told David Lennon of Newsday and other reporters, "Ain't nobody made it to the Hall of Fame or win a World Series playing in the WBC.”

It's on MLB and its players union, who operate the WBC as a joint venture, to change some of those minds. But what happened over the three weeks of WBC 2017 will make that task easier.

Already, Trout told Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times he'll "probably" play in the next World Baseball Classic in 2021 after seeing this year's tourney on television. Former major leaguer (and former Team USA star) Michael Young went a step further in a tweet during Wednesday’s championship game:

Here's another call: In 2021, there will be a lot more pre-tournament debates about who should be on the team and who shouldn't, as opposed to talk about who wants to play and who doesn't. Those debates are already part of the baseball conversation in Japan, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, but the WBC can't ever be a full classic until the same debates take over here.

As it turned out, Trout's absence didn't keep the Americans from winning because the talent level here is so strong and the players who did want to participate are so good. The absence of Syndergaard, Madison Bumgarner, Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw may have even been a blessing because it allowed manager Jim Leyland to start Stroman in the championship game.

Who could have done better than six innings facing the minimum 18 batters? Who could have been a better symbol for this World Baseball Classic than Stroman?

What could be a better image to carry from the World Baseball Classic than Stroman, shaking his shoulders and strutting off the mound?

“Sometimes you've just got to be yourself out there, you know," Stroman said later on MLB Network.

Yes, sometimes you do. It's what the 2017 World Baseball Classic was about.

It should be what all baseball is about.

 

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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