WBC keeps baseball on the world stage

Stephen Buszka

On the heels of the announcement that the IOC removed baseball from the Olympics in 2012, Bud Selig was more determined than ever to see the World Baseball Classic take shape. Selig’s work paid off and the WBC is set to begin on March 3. The Classic features 16 teams divided into four equal pools that will be held around the world in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. The top two teams in each pool will move on and the field will be halved until the top two teams meet in San Diego on March 20.

As of right now, more than 175 major leaguers have agreed to participate, proud to represent their respective countries. Although anticipation is growing and nationalism is swelling, the WBC is not without its share of storylines.

For a while the presence of Cuba was doubtful. In December, the U.S. Treasury Department disallowed Cuba from the tournament, citing an embargo. After much controversy, the Treasury gave in and allowed Cuba to participate.

Yankees third basemen Alex Rodriguez contemplated whether or not to play and for which country to play. He was choosing between playing for the Dominican Republic and the United States, but decided to sit out instead. Then he decided to play for the United States. Soon after he was blasted by Chicago Whitesox manager Ozzie Guillen who stated, “I hate hypocrites: He’s full of [expletive].” Now, A-Rod is blaming the MLB for the controversy. “All the garbage in between was Major League Baseball,” Rodriguez contended. “I didn’t go back and forth. I said once I wasn’t playing, and then at the end I said, ‘So okay, I am playing.'”

As if one Yankee controversy wasn’t enough, the supreme ruler of the Evil Empire was blunt about his disapproval of some of his players playing in the WBC. “I’m used to spring training being to concentrate on the World Series, and that’s what we like to see our players do,” Steinbrenner said and then graciously added, “but we don’t tell them not to play.”

America’s pastime, the most diverse professional sports league in the U.S., features many superstars from both this country and the Domincan Republic. Perhaps the most compelling match up, then will be that of the Domincan and the United States teams. Both can be considered favorites, but will not meet unless it is in the finals. They are predominantly made up of MLB All-Stars and even contain several future Hall of Famers. The notables are too many in number to be listed, but updated rosters can be found at ESPN’s WBC website.

The use of performance enhancers, a topic almost inseparable from the word “baseball,” is also a major concern. To deter anyone from doping, tournament officials will test 80 players prior to the start of the tournament and two players per team after each game.