Sifting Through World Baseball Classic Winners & Losers

SAN FRANCISCO--The Dominican Republic won the third World Baseball Classic, but there’s more to the WBC than just who was wearing gold medals and plantains when the tournament ended. I tallied up other winners and losers from the entire three-week March mania that was the 2013 WBC.

The Good

manuel250131Europe: The Netherlands couldn't hold a 1-0 lead in a semifinal at AT&T Park, losing 4-1 to the Dominican Republic. The DR also did in Italy in the second round in Miami.

But the two top baseball-playing nations in Europe acquitted themselves very well in the WBC. Italy, relying on homegrown players such as righty Alex Maestri and third baseman Alex Liddi as well as “passport players” such as first basemen Chris Colabello and Anthony Rizzo, advanced to the second round for the first time and threw a scare into the Dominican. Colabello’s three-run homer to right-center field off Edinson Volquez was one of the Classic’s more memorable moments, with a 29-year-old indy ball vet going opposite field off a big league ace.

Still, the Dutch did Italy one better, reaching the semifinals thanks to a pair of Pool 1 victories against Cuba in Tokyo. The key blast was Andrelton Simmons’ game-tying two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth, rallying the Dutch from a 6-4 deficit. When the Dutch scored in the bottom half of the ninth to win on a walk-off sacrifice fly, they celebrated advancing to the semis and beating the Cubans, whose disdain for the Dutch team is palpable.

"Coming from behind, tying the game up and taking the game in the bottom of the ninth--I think this game will go down as the biggest game in Dutch history so far," manager Hensley Meulens said.

Success by the two Euro teams also should help baseball's cause to get back into the Olympics; the vote for the 2020 Games programme is in August.

Major League Baseball: MLB executive vice president of business operations Tim Brosnan tried to sum it up for reporters in a scrum after the title game, saying, “This has been a great success--over the top, unqualified. It’s a worldwide event, and it’s about growing the game. For any negative you can bring up, I can give you a thousand successes.”

Brosnan, who hinted at potential qualifiers in 2015, and Paul Archey, senior VP of MLB’s International operations, cited strong television viewership around the world; for example, the championship game was the most-watched sporting event in the DR in the last decade.

Chris Colabello

Chris Colabello’s home run was one of the World Baseball Classic’s most dramatic moments.

“You have to start on the field with the competitive games we have had,” Archey said. “From ’06 to ’09 to now, each year the gap has narrowed, and this year the games were unbelievable. We had so many close games, so many great games, that’s what sets this tournament apart.

“This tournament is accomplishing what we wanted it to accomplish . . . In Taiwan, we had the No. 1 and No. 2  highest-rated cable shows of all time. We had a 75 share in Puerto Rico for the semifinal . . . and we had attendance that was higher in Puerto Rico than last time, set a record in Japan, did better than last time in Phoenix, did better than last time in Miami. So this event is getting better and better.”

The Bad

The United States: The WBC received a tepid welcome in the U.S. again, both in terms of attendance and TV viewership. Attendance was down about 2 percent comparing March 2009 to March 2013; the expanded tournament in this iteration, going from 16 to 28 teams counting qualifiers, drew 10.5 percent more fans than the ’09 event.
While MLB Network did well, with WBC games becoming its most-viewed non-postseason telecasts, restricting English-language broadcasts to MLBN put the WBC out of sight and out of mind for many fans in March. Despite its many flaws, ESPN remains the way to reach the casual fan, and for the WBC to grow in the U.S., it must reach the casual fan.

Oh, and there’s the fact the U.S. lost in the second round. Team USA is now 10-10 all-time in WBC play, so the casual fan may not care anyway if the U.S. isn’t winning.

Cuba: Cuba lost in the second round for the second straight Classic. Manager Victor Mesa deserves plenty of blame for his antics and mismanagement, but star Yulieski Gourriel will wear the goat horns, as he didn’t score from second on a line-drive single in the ninth, then made an error leading off the bottom half of the inning that led to the winning run for the Dutch.

In a sad post-script, righthander Yadier Pedroso died in a car accident the week after returning to Cuba from the WBC. Pedroso was a national team stalwart whose WBC role had been reduced by an injury.

The Ugly

Japan manager Koji Yamamoto: The first Japanese manager not to win the WBC, Yamamoto put on a double steal in the eighth inning, trailing 3-1 in the semifinal to Puerto Rico, with his top hitter, Shinnosuke Abe, at the plate. A poor jump caused Hirokazu Ibata to hold, and Seiichi Uchikawa ran into a rally-killing caught stealing. It was a bad idea that was executed poorly.

The Verdict

The WBC remains a great idea, and it was executed satisfactorily in its third iteration. The Classic still has many ways to improve, but I hope more American fans stop letting the desire for the perfect WBC keep them from appreciating the good baseball the tournament has in it.