Although the idea of the World Baseball Classic–principally, to promote baseball internationally by having major-league players play for teams assembled under the flag of their home countries–is a good one, inevitably the WBC is succumbing to the same scourges that afflict the Olympics: nationalism and petty politics.
Just to give one example, the other night I was listening to the MLB channel on XM Radio. Holden Kushner, one of the XM MLB hosts, was weighing in on the ongoing attempts by MLB to have the US government rescind its prohibition on Cuban participation in the WBC. He favors Cuban participation. Good so far. But why? So he can enjoy watching Team USA whip the “Cubans’ butts.”
I don’t get it. The Cuban team, if it is allowed in, would be the one team with no major-league millionaires or even minor-league prospects on it. It would be a team of not-very-well-off players who are playing for the love of the game, and whom we in the USA would most likely otherwise never get to see. And we should root against them because we are Americans and our political leadership despises their political leadership? I just do not get it.
For the record, if Cuba is in, that’s the team I am rooting for. Cuba, while a force in amateur international baseball, will be an underdog in the WBC–precisely because it will be competing against major-league big-money all-star teams from the USA, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. I will be rooting for them precisely because they will be players I have never heard of and will never see again (absent defections).
Moreover, the Cuban team, if permitted, would be the one team that won’t be playing to benefit its home-country baseball federation. In order to try to get around the US ban, Cuba has offered to donate all proceeds to Hurricane Katrina victims. A worthy cause, for sure. But why not donate a share of all the proceeds, and not just Cuba’s, to this purpose, thereby still allowing the baseball federation of Cuba–the poorest country and one of the most baseball-passionate in this tournament–to gain needed support for a program that gains none of the revenue that flows to the Dominican and other countries from their MLB stars?
Also for the record, if Cuba is forced out by the US government, I really do not care about the WBC. It will be far less “classic” and will have seen its inaugural tournament sullied by petty politics. Of course, there might not even be a WBC if Cuba is barred, because the International Baseball Federation may withdraw its sanction, causing several other countries to withdraw. Puerto Rico has already said it will not participate without Cuba.
And then there is the looseness of the definition of nationality in this tournament. The Italian team will be loaded with players who might have visited Italy once or twice, but otherwise are no more connected to Italy than I am to Norway or Germany. Mark Mulder will play for the Netherlands. Well, at least he is from South Holland.
And why are the Netherlands Antilles, home of Andruw Jones, lumped in with the Netherlands, yet Puerto Rico is not considered part of the USA? And of course, Taiwan will participate, but not under its own name and flag. That would offend the PRC.
It is all quite absurd.
With 43 days before the scheduled start of the tournament,the Cuba question needs to be resolved quickly.
In addition to the long list of comments to this post, folow-up posts include: