Tuesday, March 21, 2006

'06 World Baseball Classic - Wrapup

Yeah, yeah, I know. I picked Cuba to beat Team Japan. Silly me. Congratulations to Team Japan. They truly earned this title. From being absolutely dead, done and all but out the door, they came back to win it all. They were fortunate that Team Mexico beat Team USA or they wouldn’t have even made it to the semis. But, as they got jobbed by the umpire in their loss to Team USA, perhaps it was just the baseball gods evening things up.

Some random thoughts on the final game;

What in the world was the Cuban manager thinking in the first inning? Yes, his starting pitcher had loaded the bases, but no ball had been hit out of the infield and he’d only given up one walk. The Cubans already were thin on their starting pitching, having used their two best starters against the Dominicans, and to throw away his number three starter so early was a serious mistake. I think it cost him and Team Cuba, big time.

You had to admire the Cubans, the way they came back from a 6-1 deficit to make it 6-5. But you had to admire the Japanese even more, the way they turned an error by the Cubans in the ninth inning into a way to put the game out of reach.

It was really a contrast in styles; the aggressiveness of the Cubans vs. the discipline of the Japanese. In this game, discipline won.

I can understand why the Japanese starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka was awarded the series MVP; he pitched outstandingly well. But surely there needs to be an honorable mention for Ichiro Suzuki. This guy is so fundamentally sound, he’s just a pleasure to watch. One also has to give much credit to the Japanese manager, Sadaharu Oh. Every managerial move this guy made seemed to turn to gold. I think his best move was in the top of the ninth inning. The Japanese had gotten their lead runner on via a Cuban error. The next batter tried to bunt him over, but the Cubans were ready and threw out the lead runner. The momentum for the Japanese in that inning was seemingly dying. But Oh had the next batter bunt also, and this time for a hit. The Cubans weren’t ready and the execution was perfect. Now there were men on first and second with Ichiro coming up; and he delivered again. Just brilliant.

And, some random thoughts on the tournament;

All the naysayers were wrong – outstanding baseball was played. Once you got rid of the pretenders in the first round, the games were well played by teams with very even skills.

The Americans no longer dominate this sport. With the influx of non-Americans into the Major Leagues over the past several years, especially from Central and South America, it has become clear that other nationalities could play this game at a Major League level, too. But this tournament has emphasized that fact in spades. Americans are no longer automatically the best basketball players in the world and now they’re no longer automatically the best baseball players either. I think it was very telling that the two teams in the finals were the ones with the LEAST amount of Major League Baseball players on their rosters; the Japanese had just two while the Cubans had none. It is going to be a sad joke to call the MLB championship the “World Series” – we need a new name. The Chicago White Sox will have the distinction of being the last MLB team with the World Series title. Now, IMHO, the Japanese own it until the next World Baseball Classic.

The next tournament is scheduled for 2009 and then every fourth year after that. I would like to see some changes made. The umpire crew needs to be “internationalized”. Outside of a couple of unfortunate calls made by Bob Davidson, I thought the games were called pretty well. But having only American umpires leaves Team USA open to charges of favoritism; something we just don’t need. I’d also like to see the games played at a different time of the year. In fairness to Team USA’s players, many of them just weren’t in peak form; they were in early spring training. This was in contrast to, say, Team Cuba, which was in the middle of its season. Different countries have their leagues play at different times during the year, so it may be difficult to pick a time fair to everyone. Nevertheless, the effort should be made. We should look at how soccer manages to juggle the World Cup vs. the various individual country league schedules and see if there are some ideas there on what to do.

What a great tournament – I can’t wait until the next one in 2009!

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