Looking around, no one seems to be that excited about the upcoming World Baseball Classic, which isn’t that surprising, considering very few of the players themselves seem interested in participating, as evidenced by their refusal to participate. Apparently, nobody wants to get hurt. And I’m not talking about feelings getting hurt, as in “I just couldn’t cope with losing to the Dominican Republic when WE invented this sport.” I’m talking about groins.
Which begs the question: Are there bigger party-poopers in the world than baseball players?
I think not.
Now granted, while I believe the idea of a World Baseball Classic is a great one, the planning behind this inaugural event makes little sense. For starters, why is this Classic being held one month before the regular season, thus ruining spring training, and providing us with a tournament full of rusty athletes who are trying to moderately represent their country while at the same time, trying not pull a hammy? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to host this event in November? Or December? Or January? Why not fill up a non-baseball month with baseball, at a decreased risk of having the event adversely affect the actual season? I don’t understand.
Regardless, the concept of a World Baseball Classic is an admirable one, and in my opinion, long overdue considering the blatant influx of foreign talent into Major League Baseball. This is something that all true baseball fans could get really excited about, assuming of course, that the actual baseball players we are so familiar with would, ya’ know…like, play. But alas, each passing day brings news of yet another popular baseball player who refuses to play for country X. Mariano Rivera will not play for Panama because he is “not ready.” Nomar Garciaparra will not play for Mexico because he needs to focus on “switching positions.” Tim Hudson will not play for the U.S. because he is “concerned” about injuries. Eric Gagne has declined to play for Canada because (drumroll please) he is worried about getting injured. And Barry Bonds won’t be playing for the Dominican Republic because he’s “not Dominican.”
Okay, okay, that’s a lie, although Bonds really isn’t participating. But it’s evident that many of the stars of MLB are scared of getting injured. Of course, these are the same babies who refuse to participate in the MLB All-Star Game every year for similar reasons, even though loyal fans have gone out of their way to vote them in.
In short, many baseball players are scared of getting hurt while playing baseball, which would, in turn, hurt their chances of playing baseball. Of course, Rockies’ rookie Clint Barmes injured himself last season carrying venison up a stairway (true story). But whatever. At least he didn’t get hurt playing in an exhibition baseball game, because THAT would have been embarrassing.
To be honest, I can understand. Sometimes I don’t go to work on Monday because I have been resting all weekend, and am fearful that I will hurt myself at work, thus causing me to miss more work. And get this – I don’t even have a guaranteed salary! Also, sometimes I am scared that a comet will hit the earth.
It’s not just the players themselves who are scared of injuring their fragile little bodies – the owners, managers, and general managers are undoubtedly giving each other high-fives every time one of their own opts out of the WBC. Protect that investment from doing anything stupid, like playing baseball for his country.
There are two main factors involved here. First, inflated salaries breed constant concern regarding an athlete’s well being, even though anybody with a brain knows that injuries are part of the game. It is this mentality in sports that leads to scenarios like the Indianapolis Colts resting their players at the end of the regular season (that worked out well), guys like Pedro Martinez asking to go home for the All-Star break instead of to the All-Star game, and big-name NBA players refusing to enter the Slam Dunk Contest, or even an invitation to play for the U.S. Olympic team. Secondly – and I’ll isolate this issue to baseball – there is an overwhelming sense that, because these games “don’t count,” it is a pointless risk to participate in them. In this sense, MLB itself mirrors America, and all of us baseball fans are forced to deal with the frustrating ethno-centrism. Who says what counts here? Just because you aren’t getting paid for something, you can so easily shrug it off? Just because an event doesn’t fall within the context of your employment, you have every right to refuse? The World Baseball Classic is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and so many of the players view it as a mere nuisance, and that is very frustrating for someone who loves and respects the game. After all, Major League Baseball is NOT baseball. It’s just a league.
Let’s face it - the injury excuse is just a cop-out. Many of the stars of MLB feel they’re above participating in an event that celebrates the game that made them famous. But if you believe in the injury concerns, and if you feel compelled to defend the actions of many popular major leaguers, you may ask me – a reputed Yankee fan – how I would feel if Derek Jeter got injured during the WBC, thus jeopardizing his availability for the 2006 Yankees. To this, I would reply that I’ve seen Derek Jeter get injured on Opening Day, and there is nothing to do except lament the fact that it happened, and move on. To this, I would reply that I’d rather see Derek Jeter come through in the ninth inning of a U.S. victory, than NOT see him sitting on his couch. I’d rather see him get injured playing baseball than carrying venison up a staircase.
Once again there is a fun and exciting event that may potentially get ruined by the indifference of popular Major League baseball players. So thanks, Gagne. Thanks, Mo. Thanks, Nomar. Thanks to all you guys who refused to be a part of such a wonderful idea. Maybe I’ll catch you guys at the 2006 All-Star Game.
Then again, maybe not.