The World Baseball Classic (WBC) had an uneasy genesis in 2006. A year earlier, baseball, along with softball, was voted out of the Olympics, ordered to make its last appearance at the Beijing Games. Baseball became the first sport to be dropped since polo was banished after the 1932 Olympics.
Baseball responded to the vote by saying, “Fuck you, we’ll make our own party.” And that, boys and girls, is how the WBC came to be.
TV didn’t know what to do with it. ESPN paid $5 million for the broadcast rights and wound up televising most games on their Spanish-language channel, ESPN Deportes.
ESPN’s guy for programming and acquisitions, Len Deluca, told The Wall Street Journal, “We did this on three months’ notice; we did it with no chance to sell it; we did it with barely a chance to schedule it.”
MLB owners were not happy about having a tournament in the middle of their spring training. Athletes were not happy about risking injury for an attaboy and a medal nobody cares about.
Big-deal baseball statistician, newbie political blogger, and cable-news guest Nate Silver did a study on the 2006 WBC. He came to the conclusion that pitchers, particularly starting pitchers, were less productive back at their day job after playing in the tournament.
And the inaugural tournament was not that interesting. The U.S. was bounced out of the WBC after the second round. Japan won, but backed its way to the top. Nothing special.
WBC 1 was ignored by the media and despised by team owners. Big picture: not so good. Baseball-business picture: not so bad. Referring to the Wall Street Journal again, the 2006 WBC turned a profit of between $10 million and $15 million, had a total attendance of 740,000, and raked in pretty good TV ratings.
WBC 2 kicks off on March 5 and ends with a championship game on March 23. The extravaganza is produced by Major League Baseball/Major League Baseball Players Association, “supported by” all their partners, sidekicks, co-conspirators, and sanctioned by the International Baseball Federation (IBAF), whoever that is.
So, 16 national teams in four pools:
Pool A: China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Korea; Pool B: Australia, Cuba, Mexico, South Africa; Pool C: Canada, Italy, United States, Venezuela; Pool D: Dominican Republic, Netherlands, Panama, Puerto Rico.
Major league professionals can play. Please.
Rule changes for Round 1 and Round 2: each pool will feature a six-game, double-elimination format. The first two teams in each pool to collect two losses will be dropped; the other two move on.
Round 1 games will be played in the Tokyo Dome, Tokyo; Estadio Foro Sol, Mexico City; Rogers Centre, Toronto; Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan. Round 2 games will be played in Dolphin Stadium (Miami) and Petco Park. Finals will be played at Dodger Stadium.
I’m beginning to understand why owners, players, and fans say that nothing can kill baseball. To wit, the Black Sox Scandal. Chicago White Sox threw the 1919 World Series. The Dead Ball Era. Babe Ruth hit 29 home runs in 1919. The average number of runs scored per game was 3.4 in 1908. The Pittsburgh Drug Trials of 1985, starring cocaine. Eleven players were suspended, said suspensions were waived for community service and money. Pete Rose. Owner collusion. Steroids. Taxpayer subsidies. Constantly rising ticket prices. A national economic meltdown whose bottom no one sees. And baseball is making more money than ever.
Baseball’s spring-training leagues, Florida Grapefruit and Arizona Cactus, have seen $250,000,000 in new-stadium construction. The Chicago White Sox, moving into a new ballpark in Glendale, Arizona, said their ticket sales are up over 50 percent. The Cleveland Indians moved into a new $115 million ballpark in Goodyear, Arizona. Their sponsorship is up 20 percent, and they sold 45,000 tickets before their box office officially opened.
Major League Baseball hides its numbers as well as any mob-run casino did in Vegas during the 1950s. Still, it’s possible to get a hint of how well they’re doing. Forbes.com reports baseball earned a half-billion dollars in 2006 through ticket sales, merchandising, and blah, blah, blah. But the key stat belongs to commissioner Bud Selig. He makes $17 million per year. That’s a number that screams, WE HAVE TOO MUCH MONEY!
So, if baseball wants to run a tournament with the likes of South Africa, Italy, and the Netherlands as co-equal participants, well, who’s going to stop them?
MLB Network will televise 16 World Baseball Classic games. ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes will televise 23 games, including the Semi-Final and Final Games. And $19.95 gets you Round 1 and Round 2 live on http://web.worldbaseballclassic.com