WBC: Ideas for Improvements

2009 looks set to be a great year for baseball, but it could also end in the sport being dealt a considerable blow.  The International Olympic Committee will decide in October which two sports should be added to the Games in 2016 and baseball’s reinstatement hangs in the balance.

Consequently, the World Baseball Classic (WBC) has taken on even more importance.  Baseball fans are not only hoping that the event in March will be a great success, they are also already considering what improvements could be made for the next staging of the tournament in 2013.   

Various theories about the ‘best’ way for the WBC to be changed for the better have been put forward ever since the inaugural event in 2006.  For example, I have previously suggested a slight change to the structure which, in my view, would make it a better spectacle.

The latest vision for the WBC’s future has been proposed in an article at Mister-Baseball.com by freelance writer Joe Connor.  His main focus is on introducing a qualifying round and restructuring the tournament so that it takes place in three distinct sections.

Increasing the number of participants

The idea for a qualifying round is based on the observation that the current sixteen team, invite-only format is far from ideal.  It made sense to begin the WBC in this way, but it is certainly one part of the event that could be altered to extend the appeal of the tournament.

Connor notes that there have been “some hints” that MLB are considering extending the WBC to twenty-four teams.  In fact, Paul Archey, Major League Baseball’s senior vice president of international business operations, stated a year ago that the WBC steering committee “has strongly endorsed the expansion of the competition for the 2013 event”. 

So it definitely looks like it will happen, but the way in which these additional eight teams are brought into the event will determine how successful the move is.

Qualifying round

Connor argues that simply extending the tournament by another round would make it too drawn out and I would have to agree.  Tacking on a qualifying stage before the first round proper would make many overlook these games while waiting for the event to really start. 

The idea of staging separate qualifying tournaments in late summer/early autumn of the preceding year looks like a good one.  Making the qualifying tournaments into events in their own right will give them more importance.  Quite how they would be structured is open to debate, but the general idea should be taken forward.

Further restructuring

Splitting the qualifying round away from the March event is not the only restructuring suggestion from Connor.  He also proposes that the first round alone should be played in March, with the final eight teams competing in a week-long event during mid-July. 

There would probably be a great deal of resistance in the States to stopping the MLB season, even for just a week.  It wouldn’t bother me at all if it meant simply extending the All-Star break.  Having a more pronounced halt to the regular season may actually prove to be a good thing, but change is always resisted and it would be difficult to convince many of its merits.

Bringing teams together for a short event in March and then reconvening in July could also be disruptive to the plans of other baseball nations and may cause logistical problems.  Making one break in the traditional baseball season structure can be divisive enough, let alone two.

My main concern with the plan is that it could make the whole WBC competition too fragmented.  The March round would undoubtedly lose some of its spark standing on its own and some would argue that if you are staging the event in this way, you may as well only have the eight-team mini-tournament and do away with the rest.

However, the plan does alleviate some of the problems caused by holding it in March (other competing sports tournaments, players in pre-season mode – although I suspect players will still opt out of the event to get some rest) and the main event in July would be something special with all baseball-loving eyes focused on one competition alone.

So perhaps it would be worth a try for 2013?

Baseball crossing boundaries

Finally, it’s also worth commenting on Connor’s ideas for an African All-Star team, plus an Eastern European All-Star team.  As we’ve seen with the proposed 2012 Great Britain football team, neighbouring countries often have well-established rivalries and distinct identities that are not casually cast aside.  There is a stronger argument to override these differences for a developing sport like baseball, but ultimately the plan could only go ahead if those countries were completely committed to it.  It might make common sense to pool the players but, as we’ve seen with plans to build a joint football stadium for Liverpool and Everton, common sense doesn’t always prevail.

The more ideas, the better

The best thing about Joe Connor’s article is that it throws a few more ideas into the melting pot.  The WBC is a great event already and it could become even better.  Possibly, for the future of the game, it will have to as it may replace the Olympics as the marquee baseball tournament.

Regardless of the Olympic question, there is a place for the WBC in the baseball calendar.  That will remain the case so long as baseball fans care enough to propose new ideas for the tournament.

6 Responses to WBC: Ideas for Improvements

  1. Ron February 16, 2009 at 12:11 pm #

    Problem is, World Series games are going into November already. Any extended time during the season will just make that worse.

    I’m acutally with you on the idea, but don’t see it happening. MLB has got to take the lead in this and make sure something happens.

    They also need to insure the big stars play. So many of them are sitting out the WBC is starting to like a second-string tourney. I don’t understand the problem here. It will only help baseball around the world, but Bud doesn’t seem to get it.

    The only other suggestion is to play it after the World Series and before the winter league’s start, in a southern location. The only stars who might miss out then will be the ones in the Series or the league championships. If Bud doesn’t do something quick, the WBC will fade into irrelevance.

  2. Tim February 16, 2009 at 5:42 pm #

    I must admit I have a slightly cynical view of the WBC which I’m sure is based (rationally or irrationally) on the fact that it came into existence around the time that baseball was kicked out of the London Olympics thereby denying Great Britain Baseball a chance to represent itself on home turf.

    It’s been suggested that the general indifference to the Olympics demonstrated by MLB and by MLB players (being that it falls in the middle of the MLB season) was one of the reasons baseball was ejected. (I imagine it’s the same reason the IBAF’s long-running Baseball World Cup has never been given huge amounts of exposure.) The fact that MLB’s own version of an international competition followed very soon after – taking place on their timetable, their terms and, of course, offering a great marketing opportunity – does gaul the cynic in me.

    Add in the fact that it is on an invitational basis only (meaning that historically more storied Italy still got invited for ’09 despite Great Britain far out-performing them in the most recent European competition) and it just seems very… hmm, corporate.

    I can see the merits – or at least the novelty value – of there finally being a competition where MLB’s best represent their country and where the baseball nations that aren’t the U.S. can gain exposure in front of an MLB audience. But, as Ron suggests, there’s an inherent fault in it somewhere if even MLB’s own players don’t want to take part.

  3. Matt Smith February 16, 2009 at 6:41 pm #

    I think the underlying problem is that the MLB competition is well-established and there is little desire to see it being interrupted. Whether that’s allowing players to participate in the Olympics or in disrupting the normal Spring Training schedule, many just don’t want to know. It’s a real shame.

    You’re not going to find a time for the WBC that is perfect. The trouble with playing it in November is that quite a few players would have ended their season a month earlier and you would probably have just as many withdrawals, if not more.

    I don’t mind it in March (ST games soon get boring), but even that time of year is problematic in some way.

  4. Chico February 17, 2009 at 6:56 pm #

    Here in the States the World Baseball Classic is simply not generating a lot of interest among American baseball fans. I had hoped that this year’s games would have some excitement building, but from what I see, read in online forums and discussions among average baseball fans, the WBC has not taken hold at all. In my opinion most fans do not want their home team’s players to participate for fear of injury and thus not be ready for the start of the MLB season. Many players have simply opted out and are staying with their spring training schedule. Owners dread a key player getting hurt. As you stated earlier Matt, there are pros and cons concerning player participation, especially those under contract to a ML team. Maybe once the games begin the interest will pick up.

  5. Matt Smith February 17, 2009 at 10:20 pm #

    I think that’s what happened last time Chico. There was a lot of negativity, but once the games got going then the baseball fan in the critics took over!

    I know it might not be perfect, but the WBC does add something different to the sport. It’s only going to be once every four years from now on, so I don’t think it’s too much to ask that MLB teams give a little ground. I really do believe the WBC can be a great marketing tool for the sport.

  6. supa April 8, 2009 at 7:14 pm #

    the WBC was suppose to be done years before 2006, the first tournament was to take place in 2005 but NPB backed out because they thought it was going to be a American only sponsored event then a deal was arranged that gave NPB to seats on the WBC committee thus 2006 took place. Actually the WBC tournament was first presented in 1987 to MLB in 1994 the first steps to play the tournament were formed but due to the player’s strike it failed. It took some time due to steroids, wild card to get the tournament going. But in 2001 it was put for consideration again. 2004-05 was really the year it was set up for sure. But the main catalyst was bobby valentine, he challenged MLB champions against NPB champions this was declined but selig used this buzz to finally get the commitment from all sides because of the interest of japan best playing american best brought.

    The WBC shouldnt be done in July and stop the MLB season. It is so stupid first would you rather your star player hurt in march or july? Most would say march. Second it would take at least 1 week to get the games all set up and there would be more drop outs because players would be more afraid for getting hurt and with trades going on and players going to new teams it is not the smartest thing to do. And what about teams around the world, cuba, japan, korea are just suppose to stop their season and accommodate to MLB all star game schedule. It can’t be done in november because the Japan series didnt end until november 10, team japan will not have enough time to get together and practice, also you have to stop the Asia series which is a big deal for asian countries. March is the only time it makes sense.

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