Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The World Baseball Classic: Why David Wright, Johan Santana and other players should avoid it

Photo courtesy of NY Daily News

Frank Gray

The concept of the World Baseball Classic is not a bad one, in and of itself. It allows baseball to spread popularity of the sport around the world. That exposure is huge for Major League Baseball. It allows them to attract the very best from other countries to play in America and it helps TV ratings.

This is all understandable. To this point, it makes sense that MLB should only want the very best of their players to represent their countries; the better the athlete, the better the competition, the better the games, the better the ratings and popularity levels.

With all that said, baseball does not need to grow in other countries as much as MLB is protesting that it does. According to the International Baseball Federation, there are 118 countries throughout the world that play professional baseball. This includes the dozens of countries in the WBC. MLB has branched out to these countries where the sport is most popular. They have repeatedly played their season games in Japan, Puerto Rico and Mexico, just to name a few.

Does that mean the sport couldn't use more growth? Absolutely not. Globally speaking, baseball is not always even a top five sport in television ratings, with Cricket, Soccer, American Football, Basketball and the Summer Olympic Games all ranking higher at various points this past year than our beloved sport of baseball.

Therefore, it is in the MLB's best interest to have their best players on the biggest global stage; the WBC. However, is it the best thing for the players? The answer isn't immediately clear. There is always the risk of injury when a player will play extra games for another team and not the initial team of which he is signed.

That, of course, means he will be impacting his contractual teammates, their clubhouse, their environment and their rhythm for an extended period of time, not to mention the player's rhythm own as well. While there is no hard evidence that links an injury curse to the WBC, it is always a relevant possibility.

Whether it is national pride or professional ego, playing in these games is tempting and prestigious for players. They get national recognition and are embraced as heroes. Some, like Oliver Perez, have actually parlayed their performances in the WBC into large MLB contracts.

Still, others seem to be effected negatively by the extra effort. Take the face of the Mets franchise for example, David Wright, He hit 33 home runs the year prior to the WBC and just 10 the year of the WBC. That 2009 season is also the debut of Citi Field, so this could be a coincidence, but there are others.

Jose Reyes, for example, had a dismal 2009. He only played 36 games and was shut down due to a calf injury in May. In addition to Reyes, Carlos Beltran's downward spiral with the Mets began after his appearance in the 2009 WBC. He only played 81 games and hit 10 home runs in that 2009 campaign. The next few years, he spent nursing the same ailments that would repeatedly be re-aggravated.

One more example would be Carlos Delgado. In 2009, he played in the WBC and was subsequently shut down in May of that season and would never play a Major League game again..

While other teams can claim the same type of horror stories with a few of their players, it is not wise for anyone in the Mets organization to take part in the WBC. They are not in a position where they have the type of depth to make up for a major player going down to injury or could afford the hit of a major player having an underachieving year.

Johan Santana (if healthy) and David Wright have both confirmed they will participate in this year's festivities. While it can be debated how much good or bad they can do for their national rosters, it can be certain that their MLB team can't afford taking the chance.

If the Mets don't wish to step in because they are contractually covered, the mantle of responsibility falls on the player. They have more to risk in being accountable to their everyday teammates and fans than their national teammates should something go awry in this WBC.

When it comes to the WBC, for the good of the players, the team, the fans and the health of the clubhouse, the players must resist the temptation and just say no.

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