Selig, WBC Succeed Despite Critics




DENVER--Want a clue about how successful the inaugural World Baseball Classic was?

Well, the talk now is about when, not if, the second WBC will be staged in 2009.

"And that is a big change in the mindset," said Gene Orza, who handled the WBC affairs for the Major League Baseball Players' Association.

Chalk up another step forward for commissioner Bud Selig, who once again ignored the critics, pushed forward with a new wrinkle for the game and came away a winner.

Yet, Selig finds himself a target of late.

Politicians, who have done little to clean up the nation's steroid problems, want Selig to handle the dirty work a federal grand jury failed to do. So he has ordered an investigation into the latest steroid accusation with the debatable decision to have George Mitchell oversee the effort. The same Mitchell who’s involved with the Boston Red Sox ownership is going to be checking out Yankees outfielder Gary Sheffield and first baseman Jason Giambi. The same Mitchell who is chairman of Disney, which owns ESPN, that is marketing a reality show about Barry Bonds, is going to be looking into Bonds deeds.

Selig does have a tendency to put a target on his chest.

So many of the barbs, however, are undeserved.

Fay Vincent, arguably the least effective commissioner in the history of the game, continues to snipe from afar, an apparent case of sour grapes from a man who ignored mounting problems during his regime, including the financial troubles of small markets and the massive infiltration of steroids into clubhouses.

But Selig moves on, looking for ways to spur interest in the sport, ignoring the cynics, including at least one 30-year veteran of the baseball beat, to bring about realignment of baseball, the arrival of the wild card, revenue sharing and, now, the WBC.

No, it wasn't perfect.

But it was awfully good.

No U.S., No Problem

And even the fact the host United States was knocked out in the second round failed to take any of the luster off a semifinal round that featured South Korea, Japan, Cuba and the Dominican Republic and a championship game in which Japan knocked off Cuba.

Truth is, the U.S. loss actually enhanced the event because it created a stir around the world and built national pride for other nations that, at times, might have been in awe of Americans' seeming domination of the game.

"We were looking to create interest in a lot of places where there hasn't been any, and we've achieved that," Selig said. "When you saw the emotions of the fans from the various countries, you realized how much of a success we had."

The event is expected to show a profit ranging from $10 million to $15 million.

A total of 737,112 tickets were sold, falling short of the projected 800,000, primarily because of the lack of interest in the games played in the first round in Tokyo that did not involve the Japanese team.

Even without the United States involved in the semifinals, those games and the title game, all played at Petco Park in San Diego, were sellouts, with total ticket sales of 126,603.

ESPN was pleased with its ratings, averaging 1.4 million viewers for the games it televised live, including a United States-Mexico game in the second round that attracted 2.5 million viewers, nearly double the audience during that span for the NBA's national cable/satellite package.

The following was even stronger elsewhere. Nearly half the televisions in South Korea were tuned in for the semifinal with Japan, and Fidel Castro said the power in Cuba went out because of the number of TVs tuned to the championship loss against Japan.

Relative Smooth Sailing

For all the teeth-gnashing about the vulnerability of players to injury, only one serious problem developed--Washington Nationals reliever Luis Ayala, playing for Mexico, suffered a season-ending elbow injury. But was that because of the WBC or the workload he was asked to carry the past three seasons, when he appeared in 214 games, combined with the fact he continues to pitch in his native country's winter league every offseason?

There is no question baseball is moving ahead on WBC II. The long-term plan is to stage the event every four years, though the next one will be played in 2009 to avoid conflicts with the Olympics and soccer's World Cup.

It will be played in March again, although some adjustments figure to be made, including a longer preparation period for the U.S. team, which got a wake-up call after struggling through the first round, then was eliminated in the second round.

A stronger effort will be made the next time to ensure the prime American players are a part of the team after national pride was wounded by being beaten at the national pastime.

Most likely, the bulk of the games, including the semifinals and championship, will be played in the United States, an idea reinforced by sellouts for the semifinals and championship, even though Team USA wasn't involved, compared with the empty seats for first-round games in Tokyo that didn't include Japan.