Tuesday, December 06, 2005

'06 World Baseball Classic

I’ve always enjoyed the John Cleese (Monty Python) joke about the difference between Brits and Americans. As John puts it; “We like our tea hot, while Americans like it cold. When we have a World Series, we invite teams from other countries to play. And when we greet our ruler, it's on one knee, not two.” This was when Bill Clinton was in office.

His comment about the World Series, referring to Major League Baseball calling its championship tournament a "World Series" even though only teams from the US and Canada play, is spot on. As anyone who has paid attention to Major League baseball over the years can tell you, the percentage of foreign-born players in the Major Leagues has been growing rapidly. It’s no longer just an American game. And Americans are no longer the hands-down best at it.

This year, for the first time, an international tournament of professional baseball players is going to be held. The tournament, named the ’06 World Baseball Classic ('06WBC), will have teams representing 16 countries playing games from March 3rd through March 20th in 2006. These 16 teams will be divided into 4 pools. Pool A will consist of teams from Japan, Korea, China and Chinese Taipei. Pool B’s teams will be from Canada, Mexico, South Africa and the USA. Pool C’s teams will be from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Panama and the Netherlands. And Pool D’s teams will be from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Australia and Italy.

The majority of the players in this tournament will be from the Major Leagues. Some of the teams are a real collection of All-Stars, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and the United States (of course) in particular. Teams will play each other only once, with the winner and runner-up playing a maximum of 8 games, averaging a game every other day. Venues are Japan for Pool A and three different sites in the US for Pools B, C, D.

There are some interesting political dynamics here. In each pool, each team plays everyone else once. This means that in Pool A, teams from China and Chinese Taipei will be playing each other. If the United States advances from Pool B and Cuba advances from Pool C, they could wind up playing each other, also.

This tournament is also being held right in the middle of Major League Spring Training, so this will cause issues, too. Managers will be concerned that their players will have to get ready early and may injure themselves. We’ll have to see how it works out, but I’m sure it will in the end. Soccer has been doing this for decades; having professional leagues play during their seasons, but also having their players play for their country in the World Cup. This is the way baseball is headed, too. It’s a good thing.

I’ll want to spend some time thinking about the schedule and the match-ups before I feel comfortable making some predictions, but here are some initial thoughts.

Pool A – Japan should win this in a walk. They have a long history of baseball and Japanese players are increasingly found in the Majors.

Pool B – The United States should win this, with Mexico finishing second. The US is just too deep in pitching and hitting to lose in this bracket.

Pool C – A real toss-up. If you just go by Major League players, Puerto Rico has the edge. But Cuba has a long history of developing baseball talent, too.

Pool D – A dogfight between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. The Dominican roster is pretty awesome; Adrian Beltre, Bartolo Colon, Francisco Cordero, Vladimir Guerrero, Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Felix Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano, Miguel Tejada and host of others. Venezuela is nearly equally as deep. Such small countries (relatively speaking) and such large talent.

More information about the inaugural '06WBC can be found here.

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