By John Manuel
July 11, 2005
Baseball America first reported in May,
baseball’s first international tournament with major league players
will debut in March 2006 with 16 teams playing in four groups in the
United States, Asia and Puerto Rico.
With fanfare including a parade of all-star players, team owners and union officials, international baseball federations and even a shiny new logo, Major League Baseball formally announced the creation of the World Baseball Classic, an international tournament featuring teams of major leaguers representing their home countries.
“We expect the players to play with great eagerness and excitement,” commissioner Bud Selig said. “There are still many open issues to resolve . . . (but) we are plowing new ground. I don’t think people quite understand—I’m not sure I do—how big this will be.”
The first tournament will be played in March 2006, starting with round-robin pool play March 3 at a site in Asia, likely to be Tokyo. The tournament will include 39 games total, with two rounds of pool play and a four-team, single-elimination round, culminating with a winner-take-all title game March 20.
ROUND ONE ROUND-ROBIN
March 3-5 (Tokyo)
Pool A Round-Robin
March 8-11 (Arizona)
Pool B Round-Robin
March 8-11 (Puerto Rico)
Pool C Round-Robin
March 8-11 (Florida)
Pool D Round-Robin
ROUND TWO ROUND-ROBIN
March 13-15 (United States)
Pool 1 Round-Robin
(top two finishers from Pool A and Pool B)
March 13-15 (Latin America)
Pool 2 Round-Robin
(top two finishers from Pool C and Pool D)
March 18 (United States)
(top two finishers from Pool 1 and Pool 2)
March 20 (United States)
(two semifinal winners)
The biggest news to come out of Monday’s press conference at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel were the number of details still to be ironed out and the players on hand to represent eight of the participating countries. They were announced as players who have agreed to participate in the event: Justin Huber (Australia), Jason Bay (Canada), Miguel Tejada (Dominican Republic), Hee Seop Choi (Korea), Andruw Jones (Netherlands), Carlos Lee (Panama), Carlos Beltran (Puerto Rico) and Dontrelle Willis (United States).
“I just hope I make the team,” joked Willis, the Marlins’ all-star lefthander. “I think we all realize this (event) is bigger than just us. I don’t think you have to worry about us playing hard.”
Of the 16 teams invited, 14 are confirmed participants. Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball has accepted the invitation, but did not participate in the press conference as it negotiates the country’s participation with its players union.
The more nettlesome question is Cuba’s participation. Cuba has won three of the four official Olympic gold medals and dominates international baseball competition from amateur levels up to the Olympics, where professionals are allowed to play. Its involvement in the World Baseball Classic, however, is clouded by political problems and potential financial issues. Whether the U.S. government would allow Cuba’s communist government, the subject of American sanctions for more than 40 years, to participate is unclear, as is the willingness of Cuba to accept conditions on its participation.
“It’s a unique challenge to get Cuba and Japan,” said Tim Brosnan, MLB’s executive vice president for business, “but it’s not a daunting challenge.”
“Cuba plays in international events all the time,” Gene Orza, chief operating officer of the union, said of potential worries that Cuba might have about players defecting.
The 16 teams will be divided into four pools. The first includes Taiwan, China, Japan and Korea, and games will be played either in Tokyo or Taiwan. The North American pool includes the U.S., Canada and Mexico, along with South Africa, and games will be played in Arizona, either at spring-training sites or Phoenix’ Bank One Ballpark. The third pool features Cuba, the Netherlands, Panama and Puerto Rico, with games to be played in Puerto Rico. The final pool comprises Australia, the Dominican Republic, Italy and Venezuela, playing in Florida at spring-training sites or the home parks of the Marlins or Devil Rays.