World Cup Feedback
By Charles Curtis, David Marasco and The Crank
World Cup Rumblings - Charles Curtis
Jayson Stark of ESPN.com answered the FAQ about the possibility of a 2005
World Cup of Baseball the other day and I'm left wondering about one of the problems:
The biggest issue in the World Cup is that it would have to be played in March during
Spring Training. Why is this such a problem? The way I see it is, yes, it is a great way
for players to prepare for the upcoming MLB season (call it competitive spring training),
but do we honestly believe that teams are going to allow their best players to go? Here's
what Mr. Stark had to say:
"But let's just say the commissioner, the union and all the top people in the sport have
a major vested interest in having this World Cup succeed -- and there's a really good
chance they'll be communicating that to every owner, every GM and every player who might
wind up on somebody's team. Insurance will be offered -- to both players and teams. Every
effort will be made to assemble the best coaching and training staffs around. And, at least
subtly, pressure will be applied. If even one team balks, it opens the door for every team
to balk. So it's expected that more high-profile players will take part than you might think."
Insurance isn't going to make The Boss sweat any less when Godzilla steps up to the plate for
Japan. One could argue that players get injured during the spring anyway, but they're not
doing that in an atmosphere with the whole world watching. The regular season could be
affected even more than it is now by March games: Starting pitchers' arms will wear out
earlier. Knees will get creakier. You get the idea.
While the idea of a World Cup is fantastic in theory, I'm not sure we'd see it play out
to its fullest potential. I'm not saying it would be a situation where minor league nobodys
would play against each other, but the star power that would fuel a worldwide audience's
attention won't be there simply because contracts are paid by owners. Maybe Mr. Stark is
right, but I think baseball has to deal with a couple of its black eyes (we won't get
started on steroids, even though drug testing issues are out of the way) before it
creates the ultimate World Series.
Some Thoughts on Insurance and Televsion - David Marasco
Charles, interesting thoughts on the proposed World Cup. I think you go right to
the main flaw, teams will be very unlikely to give up star players. What about that
insurance? Well, right now my scorebook is one of the key exhibits in a case between the
Tampa Bay Devil Rays and their insurance company. He missed 2000 and 2001 with a combined
salary of $18M. Why? Some think he blew out his arm pitching in the Caribbean Series. I
was there and took good notes, that's why the lawyers have my scribblings.
Player contracts are investments. Teams offer a player X because they think that the
player will actually generate Y for the team. Only insurance doesn't cover Y, it pays
X. So whatever return on investment the team was thinking about isn't covered, only
the payroll cost. As a result, players who are good bargains, players with large Y-X's,
won't be seen anywhere near the World Cup. This covers up-and-coming stars who haven't
hit the jackpot of free agency. Albert Pujols is a good example here. If Barry Bonds was
lost for a year, the Giants would lose out on much more than his $18M salary. The Giants
will be very unhappy if Barry is anywhere near the World Cup.
And of course, all of this ignores the fact that the viewing public has very strong
television habits for Thursday-Sunday during March Madness. I predict that this will
be like the "we'll relocate to Miami" experiment that the Caribbean Series attempted
a few years back. It might look like a good idea on paper, but there are too many fatal
When and How? - The Crank
As much as I'd normally be tempted today to weigh in on the biggest Craw in my Baseball
Bonnet, historically speaking, the anti-trust-exemption inspired maldistribution of the
markets, since it's one of the topcis of the day here in the Bullpen, I wanted to comment
a little bit on the World Cup concept.
This is the best idea, ever, to come out of the Commissioner's office. OK, it didn't really
come out of the Commissioner's office, but since the Czar is pumping it up these days,
we'll pretend it is.
There's no "good" time to schedule a World Cup. The NHL seems to have regretted its decision
to interrupt the hockey season during the Olympics to allow its players to effectively
play a Hockey world cup and has been progressively retreating from the idea because they
really didn't see the "bounce" it would have. There's zero chance MLB will give up on the
gate for 30 teams for even a couple of weeks in the summer, and if the World Cup were played
in November, not only would it further conflict with the busy fall sports season, it would
probably fall prey to baseball ennui by a public that has just had a World Series and a
set of very, very tired ballplayers. So March or nothing is the likely time for such an event.
But the NHL lesson is a good case in point about why I think the event would be a success.
The players took the Olympics too seriously. Mario Lemieux played himself out of steam that
could've been saved for the playoffs. Many other players played far more shifts than they
would in the normally relatively-meaningless NHL regular season. It may have been the allure
of Olympic gold (remember Roger Clemens "retirement" and how quickly it ended once the US
squad was eliminated from Olympic qualification?), and it's possible a fake new "World Cup"
will get all the attention from players that an opening series in Japan does -- all negative.
But if the idea is allowed a few years to mature on its own, I strongly suspect it will become
an event that would truly rival the "World" Series for the attention of the baseball public
and would begin to make inroads into the public at large.
Americans may not take the international competition seriously. (How else to explain our
abysmal record in Olympic baseball?) But you can bet the players from around the world
would, most especially if it's a chance to beat us at our own game. Anybody who's had a
taste of the Caribbean World Series knows that major leaguers playing in the winter
leagues will leave it out on the field for a chance to compete on a nationalistic basis.
Part of me is ambivalent about this idea. What I do like about both the NHL and MLB these
days is that the leagues are truly representative of the world-class of athletes in their
sports, but that they're mixed around. You look at most MLB teams, it's representative of
the rainbow of baseball, and to me that's a good thing. We have enough cheap nationalism
in other areas not to have to taint sports with it (and anybody who's seen what parochial
hooliganism has done to Soccer knows the dangers inherent in starting to associate strong
feelings about sports with a national or ethnic identity.) The Ryder cup controversies in
recent years show even "gentlemanly" games are subject to sudden devolution into pettiness
when supposed national honor is put at stake. Good Lord, some players who've opted out of
Davis Cup competition have been exorciated for lack of "patriotism", as if winning a Tennis
trophy meant anything at all about a country's values and value.
Yet it's the oddly fractured nature of world baseball that probably would ovecome that.
Unlike soccer-football, the number of countries with serious baseball leagues and/or signficant
numbers of players is limited, and the same teams would be in the hunt for a (short) World
Cup even everytime, probably limiting the win-at-any-cost frenzy of the Soccer World Cup.
The US, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Japan, and Cuba are it; if you add in Puerto
Rico (which, as I scream at the TV screen everytime some broadcaster calls it a foreign
country, is part of the US!) and allow it to compete separately, as it does in Olympic
and international amateur events, that makes seven "teams". If you took the rest of the
Caribbean-Latin countries and Venezuela and made a false "Caribbean Basin" team, you
could probably field another credible team, and then let South Korea, Taiwan, and
Australia form a "Pacific Rim" team, there's another one. (Yes, yes, I know there
are Olympic teams all over the place from other countries, but half the players in a given
Olympic year are really Americans.)
Cuba, of course, is a whole 'nother story, since the politics of the situation, exhibitions
against the Orioles a few years ago notwithstanding, probably would prevent it from competing.
So let's say there are eight teams that might compete in a World Cup. I know the people of
Mexico, the DR, and Japan would take it seriously, and the US market is big enough that
enough people would take it seriously to be worthwhile. You would, in turn, certainly be
able to convince enough players to play. So the key issue is: would the MLB owners? The
answer to that question is very simple: fiat from the Commissioner's office that prevents
any team from explicitly prohibiting a player from participating in a World Cup. I realize
subtle pressures will be applied that will prevent some players from participating, but it
can't be enough to really hurt any one good team.
And we're talking all-star teams here. Assuming a 25-man roster, and about two weeks for the
Cup, you could have a round-robin round the first week, followed by best two-of-three elimination
semifinals and finals in the second week. Half the players would be back in spring training a
week after it began, everybody after two weeks. You can bet that players would arrive in
spring training in good shape. Pitching is always a concern here, but rules enforced allowing
no pitcher to throw more than 5 innings in a game and 10 innings total in the entire tournament
would not only protect the pitchers, it would provide a little bit of a level playing field so
a team couldn't just cruise on one or two dominant arms (and thus, for example, ruin the Red
Sox' chances at a World Series championship just so Pedro Martinez can bring home the Cup for
What is particularly laudatory here is the idea it should be done as early as 2005. Why wait
until everything is "perfect"? Start playing some games and see how it goes.
I'm under no delusions this will ever get to be like a Soccer World Cup -- the biggest
event in sports, period, because it's for a sport played virtually everywhere and which
is played in short one-game matches. But it could really be a great way of sandwiching
the MLB season maybe every third year with something special, and would be a source of
pride in many countries that are progressively being sucked dry of their talent by MLB.
We don't want to kill baseball in Japan, for instance, even though we're taking their
best players right now -- we want it to be part and parcel of the same community.
Game on, er, whatever. Let's do this.
Follow the Caribbean Series - David Marasco
I've seen a decent amount international baseball. In fact, I've seen the game played at the professional level in five different nations. It occurs to me that the World Cup could learn a lot from the Caribbean Series. For those that don't know, the Caribbean Series pits the champions of the Mexican, Dominican, Puerto Rican and Venezuelan Winters Leagues against each other early each February. Instead of watching teams like Australia in the proposed World Cup, we should restrict the tournement to the cream of the crop. Take the winner of the World Series and the Japan Series as your first two teams. For the third slot, pick the winner of the Caribbean Series. That team would have to play through their Winter League season, their playoffs, and then beat out the other good teams in the tropics to represent. The final team can be Cuba, if politics allow, or there could be an at-large bid.
This takes some steps to solving one potential problem. Since teams as a whole go to the World
Cup, the management will be that team's management. You don't have to worry about some stranger
blowing out your best starter's arm in honor of the flag, you just have to be willing to take the
heat and say "I want to win the World Series too." Now we take another page from the Caribbean
Series. The teams that show up aren't exactly the same squads that battled through November,
December and January. Each team is allowed to take a small handful of players from their
respective league in order to give their team a turbo boost. Since the Caribbean teams now
must follow "The I-Rod Rule" which limits the talent they can put on their roster, we can
give the Caribbean team more slots, and allow them to cherry-pick from MLB rosters. Of course,
MLB should be allowed to replace those players. For example, set the replacement number to 5.
So the Japanese and MLB teams would be allowed to make five replacements on their rosters (there
would be a gentleman's agreement concerning overuse of players not normally on a team's roster).
Then suppose the Dominican team won the Caribbean Series. Since they aren't allowed to have the
likes of Sosa and Pedro on their winter rosters, they get to pluck ten from MLB. If the World
Series team lost two Dominicans in this process, they are allowed to chery pick an additional
two players from the rest of MLB (with the caveat that they can only pick US citizens).
This method is tried-and-true and would lead to a much higher level of competition. The four teams would play a double-round robin over six days with the possibility of a championship game. This should be started early in March, when the NCAA hoops tourney consists mainly of mismatches. With the proper formula, this can work. Of course, Bud is running the show here...
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Charles is a rookie from The Diamond Angle's class of 2003-04, since he began writing
for the site last summer by lamenting Ken Griffey Jr.'s fifty-seventh injury. Since then, he's
become a member of The Bullpen, preaching against the ills of steroids and George Steinbrenner's
He was born in New York City, where he currently resides, and was thankfully brought up to
root for that other team in the Empire State, the New York Mets. While this has taught him
the art of patience, he's hoping the Metropolitans compete for a championship sometime in
the near future.
Charles is also a playwright, a photographer, an avid jazz and classic rock fan, and a
fantasy baseball GM. He attended Haverford College, a small liberal arts school near
Philadelphia where he majored in English. He is honored to be a part of the site's staff
and hopes to score a free trip to Hawaii when the site gets its millionth visit.
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