Inside the Phillies: World Baseball Classic draws little interest in the U.S.

Jimmy Rollins is the shortstop for Team USA. Ian Desmond would be a better choice.
Jimmy Rollins is the shortstop for Team USA. Ian Desmond would be a better choice. (Associated Press)
Posted: January 28, 2013

You can't blame the World Baseball Classic website - worldbaseballclassic.com - for trying.

When the provisional rosters for the 16-nation tournament were announced recently, the site declared that "there is no shortage of big-name stars on the rosters for the 16 countries in the World Baseball Classic."

The WBC web fairies sprinkled pixie dust over the fact that the Team USA roster did not include National League MVP Buster Posey, American League Cy Young Award winner David Price, American League rookie of the year Mike Trout, National League rookie of the year Bryce Harper, and other American stars such as Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander, and Andrew McCutchen.

Do a position-by-position analysis and you could argue that the only spot Team USA has its best-available player is in left field, where 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun will play.

Most people would go with Posey over Joe Mauer at catcher, Fielder over Mark Teixeira at first base, Andrew McCutchen over Adam Jones in center field, and Jason Heyward or Jay Bruce over Ben Zobrist or Shane Victorino in right field.

You could also argue for Aaron Hill over Brandon Phillips at second base, Ian Desmond over the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins at shortstop, and Ryan Zimmerman over David Wright at third base.

Team USA's starting rotation includes National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, who moved from the Mets to Toronto this offseason, San Francisco's Ryan Vogelsong, Atlanta's Kris Medlen, and Texas' Derek Holland. All four are quality pitchers, but the Washington Nationals, San Francisco Giants, and Phillies all have a better top three with American-born pitchers than the one Team USA will use in this international competition.

That should not be able to happen.

The relief corps is also short on some of the best America has to offer, with Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon and Baltimore's Jim Johnson among the absent.

To be fair, some of the best players from other countries are also sitting this event out. The Dominican Republic will not have Albert Pujols. Canada will be without Joey Votto. Japan's Ichiro Suzuki, after driving in the tournament-winning run in 2009, is not playing. Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda also is not on the roster of the team that won the first two WBC tournaments behind the pitching of Daisuke Matsuzaka.

So what should we make of this third WBC classic?

For starters, it generates a lot more excitement in places such as Japan, South Korea, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba than it does in the United States.

According to the bizofbaseball.com website, the Tokyo Dome, with a capacity of 55,000, was sold out for three Japanese first-round games in 2009 and the Rogers Centre in Toronto drew 43,000 for a game between Team Canada and Team USA the same year. The only time the Blue Jays drew those kinds of crowds that year were when they played the Yankees and Red Sox.

Examine the attendance at some of the games in the United States four years ago and it was embarrassingly awful. Six games at Petco Park drew just under 92,000 fans. Two of the games had fewer than 10,000 fans.

For some reason, the WBC decided four years ago to play games at Dolphins Stadium, a football venue where the terms baseball and crowd seldom joined together. Team USA failed to draw more than 17,000 in three of the games.

This year, Team USA will play three first-round games at Chase Field in Phoenix, a venue where the Diamondbacks averaged just under 27,000 per game last season. There is little reason to believe they will surpass that 27,000 figure for games against Mexico, Canada, and Italy.

What's fascinating about the World Baseball Classic is that it's an international competition involving a sport so many Americans love. We certainly love baseball more than soccer as a spectator sport, but a lot more people get excited about the World Cup than they do the WBC.

Why?

It's because we know the game of baseball so well. We know when the best players aren't involved. We know we don't want to watch Team USA play Italy. We know it's not really the best possible baseball when starting pitchers are on a pitch count.

When they stage the World Cup, the best soccer players in the world participate even though an injury could cost them time on the roster of their English Premier League, La Liga, or Bundesliga team. The NHL happily stops its season so the best players in the world can compete in the Olympics, and the level of play is amazing.

That's not to say that the intensity in the World Baseball Classic isn't high. Team USA and a lot of other countries have immense talent and the Japanese were rightfully proud after they won the last two tournaments. It's that pride that likely enabled them to beat more talented countries.

American fans, however, just know that they get to see a better and more authentic product during the course of the baseball season.


Inside the Phillies: USA vs. USA

Team USA could easily put together another team of players not on its current World Baseball Classic roster that could beat the players who will participate for all the other teams in the tournament. Here's a look at the Team USA roster for the March tournament and a list of American-born players who could beat them.

TEAM USA   BETTER TEAM USA

Player   Pos.   Team   Player   Pos.   Team

Jeremy Affeldt    RP    SF   Sean Marshall    RP    CIN

Heath Bell    RP    ARI    Sergio Romo    RP    SF

Mitchell Boggs    RP    STL    Ryan Cook    RP    OAK

Steve Cishek    RP    MIA    Jim Johnson    RP    BAL

Tim Collins    RP    KC    Jason Motte    RP    STL

Luke Gregerson    RP    SD     Jonathan Papelbon   RP    PHI

Craig Kimbrel    RP    ATL    Craig Stammen    RP    WAS

Chris Perez    RP    CLE    Eric O'Flaherty    RP    ATL

Glen Perkins    RP    MIN    Joe Nathan    RP    TEX

Vinnie Pestano    RP    CLE    Joel Hanrahan    RP    BOS

R.A. Dickey    SP    TOR    Justin Verlander    SP    DET

Kris Medlen    SP    ATL    Clayton Kershaw    SP    LAD

Ryan Vogelsong    SP    SF    David Price    SP    TB

Derek Holland    SP    TEX    Jered Weaver    SP    LAA

Joe Mauer    C    MIN    Buster Posey    C    SF

J.P. Arencibia    C    TOR    Brian McCann    C    ATL

Jonathan Lucroy    C    MIL    A.J. Pierzynski    C    TEX

Mark Teixeira    1B    NYY    Prince Fielder    1B    DET

Brandon Phillips    2B    CIN    Aaron Hill    2B    ARI

David Wright    3B    NYM    Ryan Zimmerman    3B    WAS

Jimmy Rollins    SS    PHI    Ian Desmond    SS    WAS

Willie Bloomquist    IF    ARI    Darwin Barney    IF    CUBS

Ben Zobrist    OF    TB    Mike Aviles    IF    CLE

Ryan Braun    LF    MIL    Mike Trout    LF    LAA

Adam Jones    CF    BAL    Andrew McCutchen   CF    PIT

Giancarlo Stanton    RF    MIA    Bryce Harper    RF    WAS

Shane Victorino    OF    BOS    Michael Bourn    OF    FA*

* free agent

- Bob Brookover


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com.

Follow on Twitter @brookob.

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