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NEW YORK–Baseball’™s long wait for a World Cup-style international
tournament, with the game’s best players representing their countries,
Two Major League Baseball Players Association officials, speaking on
condition of anonymity, said Major League Baseball and the MLBPA will
announce either Wednesday or Thursday that a 16-team tournament will be
held during spring training of 2006.
“We’™re working on a joint press release to be issued over the next
few days,” one union official told Baseball America. “It’™s a
collaboration–we’™re hammering out what we’™re going to say and how
we’™re going to say it.”
MLB spokesman Pat Courtney declined comment. One high-ranking
baseball official with knowledge of the pending announcement said
suggestively, “I would be here,” in reference to the owners meetings
that are being held through Thursday at MLB’™s offices in Manhattan.
Tentatively called the “World Baseball Classic,” the tournament will
be staged across three weeks next March and will be the first
full-scale event involving major league players representing their home
countries. Olympic tournaments included only amateur players from
1984-1996, after which professionals have been eligible. Because of
scheduling conflicts, however, international competition has generally
involved minor leaguers.
Though player participation will be voluntary, the prospect of
having stars-and-stripes-clad Roger Clemens facing Albert Pujols and
Vladimir Guerrero of the Dominican Republic, with flags waving
throughout the stands, has long intrigued baseball officials, players
“I would like to play in that, but the Dominican has a lot of good
players,” Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre said last year. “Who
knows if I would be in it? If I was (chosen) to be in it, I’™d like to
represent my country.”
According to one union official, MLB and the MLBPA will jointly run
the tournament through an MLB subsidiary called World Baseball Classic
Inc., which will include representatives of MLB, the union and the
International Baseball Federation (IBAF), which is the governing body
for international baseball. Neither official would discuss details of
how money from sponsorships, television rights and the like will be
Much of the tournament structure has been decided, subject to minor modifications.
Organizers are in the process of formally inviting 16 nations, with
the only question mark being Cuba, whose invitation must be cleared by
the U.S. State Department and then subject to approval by Fidel Castro.
The teams will start play in four four-team pools that will play
round-robins in different countries.
Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China will play March 3-5, probably at
Japan’s Tokyo Dome. The three other pools will play March 8-11 and
consist of: Puerto Rico, Cuba (for now), Panama and likely Italy; the
United States, Canada, Mexico and likely South Africa; and the
Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Australia and the Netherlands. The first
pool will play in Puerto Rico, perhaps at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, while
the other two would play at Arizona and Florida spring-training sites
to be determined.
The two teams in each pool with the best records would advance to
the second round, another round-robin, on March 13-15 at different
major league stadiums. Houston’™s Minute Maid Park, Los Angeles’ Dodger
Stadium and San Diego’™s Petco Park have long been considered strong
The four outright winners of those pools would each advance to a
single-game semifinal on March 18, again at a major league stadium. The
winners of those games will meet for a winner-take-all final March
20–a Monday, presumably to avoid television conflicts with the NCAA
men’™s basketball tournament.
Team rosters, currently set at 27 players, will be chosen according
to Olympic eligibility guidelines by tournament organizers. According
to one union official, major league clubs will not be able to block any
of their players from participating. Several teams, most vocally the
Yankees, have expressed concerns both privately and publicly about
their high-priced stars possibly getting injured before the season
starts. The Yankees also have been reluctant to release their minor
leaguers for USA Baseball’™s teams in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2003.
“What is (George) Steinbrenner going to say if he loses a $20
million player?” current Yankee slugger Gary Sheffield told the New
York Times last year. “How is that going to sit with him?”
One union official said that insurance to cover player contracts in
the event of injuries during the tournament had been addressed to MLB’™s
Special guidelines, to be determined by a tournament committee, will
limit how pitchers can be used, probably with rules on specific pitch
limits and required rest for both starters and relievers. This is to
placate both clubs and insurance companies: As one union official said
last year, “We don’™t want (Angels closer) Frankie Rodriguez, out of
national pride, to pitch two innings (for Venezuela) three days in a
MLB and the union have talked about joining forces for a tournament
of this sort since the early 1990s, but only in the past several years
have worked hard to make it happen. One year ago there were
expectations of a tournament to be held this past March, but several
complicating factors–particularly securing sanction from IBAF, which
came this March–delayed its final formulation until now.
Negotiation of an agreement regarding drug testing also contributed
to the long tournament negotiations. Last year, players and owners
agreed to a policy consistent with the guidelines set by the World
Anti-Doping Agency and the Olympic movement, which are generally
considered stronger than the ones currently governing all major league
players and the subject of considerable debate.