As a manager, Davey Johnson has a career .564 winning percentage over 2,039 games and a World Series championship with the 1986 Mets. Shortstop Derek Jeter has been captain of some of the best Yankees teams and has four rings of his own. This spring, they’re both hoping for six more victories as they compete against 15 countries in the second installment of the World Baseball Classic.
At the Winter Meetings, USA Baseball announced that Johnson will manage the United States team, and introduced Jeter as the team’s first player. Since then, Angels righthander John Lackey, Red Sox second baseman and 2008 American League MVP Dustin Pedroia and Braves teammates Chipper Jones and Brian McCann have also expressed interest in joining the team.
In 2006, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez had his choice of playing for Team USA or the Dominican Republic, and he chose the U.S. This year, however, he has said that he will play for the Dominican, where he claims to have dual citizenship. Rodriguez is the son of Dominican parents and was born in New York. He lived in the Dominican for three years as a child.
North of the border, Baseball Canada announced that its team will be managed by former Blue Jays manager Ernie Whitt. Whitt is an American citizen, but has long been involved with Canadian baseball. He was manager for Team Canada at the 2006 WBC and coached the Canadian team in the 2004 Olympics and the 1999 Pan-Am Games.
“I feel pretty Canadian, actually,” Whitt said. “I’ve been involved with baseball up in Canada for a pretty long time—and not just baseball, but community work too. I know I’m an American citizen, but when it comes to this, I’m pretty Canadian.”
Returning as Canada’s first baseman is Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, who hit .308 in the inaugural tournament with three doubles and two RBIs in three games. The hot start carried over into the season, as he won the American League MVP that year. Morneau said playing in the WBC accelerates the preparation for the season, and for the first time in his career he started hitting in December.
“It kind of speeds up your process a little bit,” he said. “When you head into spring training, you start off and play four innings, get a couple of at-bats and you kind of ease your way into it. With the Classic, you kind of have to prepare a little bit quicker. It’s a little different but, at the same time, when I was out there, I wasn’t standing out there going, ‘Man, it’s the seventh inning and I’m tired’ because there’s so much emotion and adrenaline. So, when you go back to camp, it’s a little bit of a letdown actually because there’s not that do-or-die feeling anymore”
Ichiro, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hiroki Kuroda will reportedly play for Japan, and Ivan Rodriguez will play for Puerto Rico. Brandon Webb, Josh Beckett and Josh Hamilton have indicated, for various reasons, that they will not be joining the American squad. Final, 28-man rosters must be set by Feb. 24. The rules have slightly changed this year, eliminating the round-robin style of play for the opening two rounds. It is being replaced with a double-elimination system, which also eliminates the run-differential tie-breaker.
The tournament begins in Tokyo on March 5 and runs through March 23 with the championship game scheduled at Dodger Stadium.