SAN FRANCISCO -- The Dominican Republic had one of the best teams in the World Baseball Classic. The Dominican Republic won the World Baseball Classic. It doesn't sound so surprising when you put it like that.
If the goal of the WBC was to promote international interest in the game in specific countries, Puerto Rico was probably the country that could have benefitted the most from a win -- it's a country with a strong baseball tradition in need of some help. There are a lot of reasons for the decline of baseball in Puerto Rico. Basketball is taking over there, which seems like something that would happen after international sanctions. A little Caribbean pride and bragging rights from the WBC would have gone a long way.
But if the goal of the WBC was to play some baseball games and see which team was the most talented, the Dominicans made a convincing case. Eight straight wins is impressive, and it's not like they rolled through Russia and Pakistan to do it -- they beat the U.S. and Venezuela, and they beat Puerto Rico three times. Only one game was decided by a single run. It was a dominating performance.
With the Classic behind us, let's look back at some of the pros and cons of the tournament:
Pro - The talent
It's easy to take the Dominican infield for granted, but it's filled with All-Star appearances and players who have garnered MVP votes. Is Hanley Ramirez the weak link in the group? If so, that would mean the weak link in the Dominican infield would be the best player on about seven or eight of the rosters in the WBC. The bullpen was ridiculous, too. Pedro Strop was throwing 95-m.p.h. front-door sinkers and Fernando Rodney was throwing M.C. Escher change-ups whenever the Puerto Ricans started anything resembling a rally.
I'm still bummed about the early exit of the Venezuelan team. They were overstuffed with talent, and that's not a Pablo Sandoval joke. The same can be said for the Americans. I know that Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw weren't in the rotation, but it was probably still the best collection of 28 players in the tournament. Sometimes it's worth stepping back, looking at the rosters, and making one of those Bugs Bunny whistling sounds. Man, there was a lot of talent on some of those rosters.
Con - The talent
Don't take this the wrong way, but here was the pitching matchup for the championship game of the World Baseball Classic:
- A 29-year-old journeyman with one of the worst walk rates by a starter in recent major-league history
- A guy who doesn't even show up in Baseball Reference. Heck, even this guy shows up there despite his best efforts not to be found.
Think about Puerto Rico's roster, which was made up of unremarkable pitching, an All-Star catcher, a leadoff hitter of some note, and a couple of older power bats in the middle of the order. They were basically the 2012 Twins, but with worse pitching. If they were a major-league team, we would spend a majority of the next 162 games making GIFs of them.
It isn't something you'd notice if you weren't a baseball nerd. The average person buying a baseball ticket doesn't know Nelson Figueroa from Doug Fister, but the average fan isn't likely to care about the WBC anyway. When the hardcore fan sees a Deduno/Alvarado matchup in the final game, they might be as likely to tune out as the casual baseball fan.
Not that there's anything you can do about it, of course. Part of the beauty of the WBC is seeing what kinds of teams can be cobbled together using the talent spread across the far reaches of professional baseball. Just pointing out that the names on the rosters of the good teams might be an impediment to a wider audience, much less the names on the rosters of the less-talented teams.
Pro - The crowds
As much as I liked to make fun of the horns that HONK HONK HONKed throughout the game, it was inspiring to see the Dominican and Puerto Rican fans celebrating inside and outside the stadium. When the rain started coming down Tuesday night, the biggest grouping of Dominican fans stayed put down the third-base line -- a swath of 100 or so, madly waving flags, banging on drums, whistling their whistles, and HONK HONK HONKing as if they were the only thing keeping their team awake. They're outside AT&T Park as I write this, celebrating in the rain like the giddy fools that they are.
That isn't to say that fans of major-league teams aren't passionate, or that this kind of game-long celebration is unique. But the addition of national pride -- and the different customs and HONK traditions that come with it -- made it a wholly unique crowd that was fun to watch, if not listen to. The alchemy of passion and national pride is one of the reasons why the World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world, after all. It's good to get a little taste of it in baseball.
Con - The crowds
As in, while there where Dominican and Puerto Rican fans everywhere, they were still vastly outnumbered by the curious onlookers and impartial fans, which tempered the enthusiasm just a bit. It was going to be a tough task to fill any West Coast city with Dominican and Puerto Rican partisans. San Francisco was too far away, and there aren't enough local expats to make up the difference.
But look at the crowds for the Japan/Korea final in 2009 -- they were even goofier. That was a perfect match of teams and location. The WBC can't plan for that. And, like the rosters, there isn't anything anyone can do about it. It's a luck-of-the-draw thing.
Although, it wouldn't be a bad idea to move the games around to the different countries. I'm not sure how that would work, balancing the dependable attendance/support with the danger of creating an unfair advantage for the host team. Maybe the general apathy of the American fan makes it as close to a neutral site as possible.
Pro - Meaningful baseball in March
Your alternative was spring training, and it was still available to you. Spring training is exciting for about 5.4 games, at which point prolonged exposure makes you break out in hives. The WBC will always be a great way to get extra baseball that people care about. Maybe not everyone cares about the WBC. But someone does, which gives it an instant lead on the number of people who care about spring-training games.
Con - The restrictions of meaningful baseball in March
When starting pitchers reached 75 pitches, an announcement came across the P.A., reminding everyone (including the teams, I suppose) about the 95-pitch limit of the WBC's final round. It sort of punctures the illusion of meaningful baseball. It's meaningful enough, but it's not like the managers are going to treat this like a legitimate playoff game. Heavens, no. It's written into the rules that they can't. There are million-dollar arms at stake.
You get over it pretty quickly, of course.
Note that I don't have any grand ideas on how to improve the Classic, other than the invention of cheap, reliable teleportation machines and medical nanobots that make pitcher workloads irrelevant. Get to it, science. But these are mostly nits that probably don't need to be picked. Even with a ballpark filled three-quarters as much as usual and a steady rain, there was a crowd of people waiting on every pitch in a game on March 19th. That's worth something. A lot, maybe.