You’re forgiven if hearing the World Baseball Classic may be done after this year doesn’t fill you with a deep sadness. In three previous tournaments designed to pit the planet’s best baseballers against one another, the most memorable moment was a brawl between two teams that didn’t make it out of the first round.
Now, reports indicate that unless there are noticeable improvements in earnings, the 2017 WBC will be the last. A giant swing in public interest seems unlikely: attendance dropped from 2009 to 2013, particularly for the Finals, which, in the past, was usually the only game to sell out. But why can’t a sport that currently lacks an Olympic presence have a successful international tournament?
For starters, it hasn’t exactly become the best-on-best tournament that was pitched from the beginning. The problem partly falls on the length of the MLB season. March is the only month the WBC can be held, meaning players are just getting back into the swing of things as spring training starts. Many pass on the opportunity to play for their country, while a few don’t really have a choice.
In the interest of protecting their assets from injury, the MLB has to insure all players who enter the tournament, which can be difficult, as Russell Martin found out. After having minor offseason knee surgery, he wasn’t allowed to suit up for Team Canada, where the catcher was relishing an opportunity to play shortstop.
Beyond the insurance, there’s also mandatory pitch counts to keep the game’s best from throwing out their arms. So the World Baseball Classic becomes less about which nations have the best players in the world, and more about who has the deepest talent pool. That’s mainly why the tournament hasn’t taken off.
It would be easy to sell a USA team loaded with Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta and Madison Bumgarner to baseball fans. But that’s not what you get if you go watch the stars and stripes. You’ll get some good players, but not the All-Star loaded roster it could be. The Classic was a noble idea, but the demands of the MLB have ultimately kept it from gaining the national pride and intensity of Olympic basketball or hockey.
So will it last beyond this year And if not, who will be the last winner of the World Baseball Classic. Here’s the odds.
2017 World Baseball Classic Odds:
Odds to win:
- Dominican Republic: 3/1
- Japan: 4/1
- USA: 4/1
- South Korea: 11/1
- Venezuela: 15/1
- Cuba: 20/1
- Mexico: 22/1
- Puerto Rico: 22/1
- Netherlands: 27/1
- Canada: 70/1
- Chinese Taipei: 90/1
- Italy: 125/1
- Australia: 175/1
- China: 175/1
- Colombia: 175/1
- Israel: 225/1
Despite looking like one of the better nations on paper, the United States has never finished higher than fourth at the tournament. Japan took the first two titles before Robinson Cano led the Dominican Republic to a gold medal in 2013. All three nations look to have the best rosters this year, but the tournament has seen surprise runs before, from places like Puerto Rico and Netherlands.
Odds there is another tournament in 2021: 7/1
Photo credit: Werynay (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons