For Mike Trout and Mookie Betts, Rewards Outweigh Risks of Playing in WBC
PHOENIX – When Mets closer Edwin Diaz went down with a knee injury celebrating Puerto Rico’s 5-2 win over the Dominican Republic, Team USA was in the second inning of its pool play finale against Colombia.
It wasn’t until after Team USA wrapped up its 3-2 victory that Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and the rest of Team USA learned of Diaz’s injury. Like everyone else in the baseball world, they were shocked and saddened to see one of the game’s best closers get injured and have to be carried off the field.
But at no point did Diaz’s injury make Trout or Betts doubt their decision to participate in the World Baseball Classic. Even in light of injury, the two former MVPs both said they felt the rewards of playing in the WBC outweighed the risk.
“Those things, they can happen to anybody at any given time,” Betts said. “You can always try to place blame on the WBC, but that was just a freak accident that could happen to anyone at any given time.”
To wit, other players have similarly been hurt celebrating during the MLB regular season. Padres ace Jake Peavy suffered a broken rib jumping up and down in celebration after the Padres clinched the National League West division title in 2005. Angels slugger Kendrys Morales broke his left leg jumping on home plate in celebration after hitting a walkoff grand slam in 2010.
A league official told the Los Angeles Times that MLB compiled injury data from the first four World Baseball Classics and said, “there is no correlation between being hurt and playing in the WBC,” although the league declined to share the data.
A study by Washington University in 2017 determined that pitchers who participate in the WBC missed an average of 4.07 more days during the season because of injury. It found position players miss an average of less than one day more.
“I talked to (Adam) Wainwright about this during the Canada game—this is the funnest experience I have had on the baseball field,” Trout said. “To represent your country. It's been a blast.
“Obviously there's risk involved. You're still playing baseball in spring training. So, for me, being part of this atmosphere, it's special. It means a lot to me. I knew going in it was going to be a fun time. But I never knew it was going to be this fun. We've got a pretty good team in there, and it's fun to come to the ballpark every day.”
Betts took it a step further than merely saying he has found the experience of playing in the WBC worth whatever associated risks exist—he encouraged other players to participate in the future.
“To echo what Mike said, this is so much fun,” Betts said. “It's so much fun. This is way better than getting four at-bats in the back fields. I encourage those who are watching, come join, come play for Team USA, because this is a lot, a lot, a lot of fun.”
For US-based fans and the 30 MLB organizations, the priority will always be the MLB regular season over the WBC.
But for the players, it’s not an either-or decision. They have the ability to participate in both. In different ways, both offer experiences and rewards that players value, even if those in the WBC are harder to quantify.
Diaz’s injury was disheartening. But for Betts and Trout, it doesn’t change how they feel about playing in the WBC.
“I mean, just hearing the in USA chants in the ninth inning,” Trout said. “People, you look in the stands and they’re waving the American flag, it means a lot to all of us to play for our country.