As you've no doubt heard, it took some late-inning heroics (and maybe some
idiotic idiosyncratic managing) but Team USA managed to avoid an early and ignominious exit from the World Baseball Classic by beating Team Canada, Sunday afternoon in Phoenix. Sure, it was exciting. And notwithstanding Joey Votto, it's a more talented World Baseball Classic with the U.S. than with Canada. Still, I think it's easy to overstate the importance of those two deciding endings. Case in point:
But viewed from even the slightest distance, Team USA's 9-4 comeback win meant as much to the WBC as the background in a family vacation photo. Shedding the U.S. in the first round, especially this year, would have been like cropping out the Grand Canyon or Mount Rushmore.
The team doesn't have to reach the finals. It hasn't advanced that far in either of the two previous tournaments, and yet the event lives on. The final of the 2009 Classic between Japan and South Korea, a 10-inning thriller, satiated any real baseball fan and made yearning for Team USA as pointless as craving catsup on sushi.
But a loss on Sunday would have been devastating for the tournament and MLB. The U.S. team bailed both out in at least three ways:
Summarizing those (at least) three ways:
- If the U.S. had lost to Canada, they would have actually finished last in their pool, which (according to current rules) would have required Team USA to play in a qualifying round next time. Which would be ugly because most of the good players wouldn't participate. Even if the rules were changed, it would look bad.
- "Team USA's absence would have thinned out the crowds and media coverage pretty dramatically at the tournament's next American stop, Miami."
- The WBC's decision to not suspend anyone in the wake of the Canada-Mexico brawl would have looked really bad if Canada had advanced to the next round.
I'm skeptical about all three of these supposedly devastating ways, because they also seem exceptionally USA-centric. Which is typical of the coverage in this country, of course. But again, it gets back to this: Who is this event really for? If you assume that it's largely for U.S. baseball fans, then yes: a loss to America's Hat might have hurt a little. On the other hand, maybe it would have served as a bit of a jolt to both the players and the fans, and resulted in more interested in the first round, the next time around.
About the other stuff ... I don't know, man. Seems like when your six teams include Japan, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, your crowds in Miami will be pretty solid. As for media coverage ... the whole point of this thing is to get more coverage in OTHER countries. And when you lose Team USA, you gain Team Another Whole Country.
Sometimes it seems like the whole world revolves around the good old United States of America, and sometimes it actually does. But sometimes what we do doesn't matter as much as we think.