Baseball may be America’s pastime, but American interest in the most prestigious international baseball competition is not high.
The World Baseball Classic came to an end Wednesday night as the United States faced Puerto Rico in the Championship game. Despite haivng their home country in the finale, the WBC has struggled to capture the interest of American fans.
The World Baseball Classic feature a great deal of talent on several international rosters. The Dominican Republic was represented by Manny Machado and Jose Bautista, two of the strongest sluggers in baseball. The Puerto Rican team was led by three of baseball’s most talented young players in Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez and Carlos Correa. Even the American team had a frightening roster; former MVP Buster Posey, perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt and reigning AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer are part of a dominant American lineup.
Yet the United States went without some of its most popular stars. The two reigning MVP’s – Kris Bryant and Mike Trout – did not accept the invitation to join the United States National Team. Three-time Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw also elected to stay home, along with reigning winners Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. From Bryce Harper to Noah Syndergaard, fan-favorites from all 30 MLB teams elected to not partake in the World Baseball Classic. When dominant pitchers and hitters choose to play spring training games rather than compete for their country, it causes the tournament as a whole to lose some legitimacy. Why should fans want to watch the World Baseball Classic if their favorite players are not going to participate?
Compare this to the most prominent international competition for a team sport – the FIFA World Cup. Dozens of countries from several continents compete in the World Cup, and the world of soccer comes to a halt to focus on international competition. No league play occurs during the World Cup, as leagues like the Premier League in England and La Liga in Spain organize their seasons from August to May in order to leave room for international play in June and July. In the World Cup, soccer fans get the chance to see players that they normally would not. If a person follows the Premier League, they may only get the chance to see players in the German Bundesliga during Champions League matches or during preseason friendlies. In the World Cup, they have another chance to watch these players.
Contrast this now with the World Baseball Classic. Spring training begins in late February, which means that preseason games for MLB run directly in conflict with the World Baseball Classic. In addition, MLB is the premier destination for baseball. Players in Japan and Central America often leave the leagues in their respective countries to have the chance to play in America. The level of talent in MLB is much higher, so the best players from all over the world play for American teams. In soccer, leagues like the Premier League and the Bundesliga are incredibly similar in talent; this is simply not the case for baseball. American fans already see all of the best players in the world play every day. As a result, the World Baseball Classic does not inspire intrigue to the American fan.
The World Baseball Classic as an institution is not a problem. The issue for Americans lies in that it is simply not interesting to watch. Baseball is dominated by the United States, and the World Baseball Classic offers nothing that MLB does not already provide. If baseball had the same worldwide reach that a sport like soccer does, then maybe the United States would pay more attention to it. But when the league’s best players view it as an afterthought, it’s hard for the World Baseball Classic to be anything worthwhile to American fans.
Matt Lapolla is a broadcasting major from Union, N.J. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MatthewLapolla.