Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Please Don't Let David Wright Kill the World Baseball Classic

Can you hear it?

I can and I'm all the way across the United States of America. Even in San Francisco, I can already hear the clickety-clack of a million fingers hitting a million keys as fast as they can type or hunt-and-peck.

If you thought the cacophony being raised over the rash of injuries coming out of Team USA at the World Baseball Classic was irritating before, get ready for a whole new ballgame. And it's all because of something as simple as a foul ball.

But that's all it takes in Major League Baseball's preseason.

All it takes to make David Wright sore.

Okay, maybe that and being on the bottom of thousands of pounds of humanity.

Yeah, the New York Mets' prized third baseman has every right to be aching after the display he and his mates put on—that's not the point.

The point is that soreness—even of the mildest variety—is a kosher reason to shut it down for a while in Spring Training for star players. Shoot, a lot of the veteran stars don't take the exhibition seriously until the last week or so for that very reason.

The superstars who are acclimated to the Show's rhythms want to hit Opening Day feeling 100 percent because it's a looooooong season and they know they can snap into form quickly.

Which makes all the hand-wringing over the "intensity" of the WBC and the alleged injuries it's causing a little ridiculous. During the pruning US-Venezuela game, the excellent broadcast team discussed it.

Ken Rosenthal went into it at some length, but he emphasized the wrong thing.

The problem with the WBC is not the injuries. As Rosenthal glosses over, these so-called injuries are an endemic part of spring baseball in general.

For one thing, most of them are not really injuries in the pro sport sense of the word. If a lot of these dings happened when the games counted, the victim would still play all nine innings (or whatever the equivalent is if he's a pitcher).

However, when you're just trying to round into regular season form, you might shut it down if you're feeling 80 percent for too long. You might ride the pine for a couple games to get back to full strength because being healthy and strong is more important than being primed.

Even players primed leaving the exhibition season will inexplicably slump at the outset—there are no guarantees in baseball and that's the understatement of the year with regards to hitting the pearl.

More insane, though, is the causal link between the Classic and the injuries. It's simply bull feces.

What do Manny Ramirez, Jim Johnson, Trevor Hoffman, Joe Mauer, Tim Redding, Justin Duchscherer, Randy Johnson, Fernando Perez, Vernon Wells, and Ervin Santana all have in common?

They are all expected (or had the potential) to be important pieces for their respective teams in 2009 and are suffering from an injury NOT sustained at the World Baseball Classic.

Yes, the possible impact of injuries coming from Team USA (or others) is higher because those players are—more or less—the best of the best. Of course, that makes the ailments substantially more likely to be scrapes, bruises, and twists rather than gashes, fractures, or torn ligaments.

Do you think the powers-that-be from the WBC are gonna take chances with guys like Ryan Braun, Dustin Pedroia, Chipper Jones, etc.? Do you think their counterparts in Milwaukee, Boston, Atlanta, etc. would tolerate the same?

No and no.

These guys have been taken down at the first hint of something larger. I'd bet good money they'll all be right as rain for Opening Day.

Now, don't get me wrong—I'm neither blind nor stupid.

The World Baseball Classic is obviously more intense than Spring Training. Anyone who saw that comeback against Team Puerto Rico must acknowledge that. As such, the higher stakes do pose a greater risk to a player who comes in unprepared. And that is definitely a risk.

Except it's a risk that always exists. Hey, people who are unprepared often find themselves in trouble—that's simply the way life works.

This is the second go-around for the WBC and it's not being played in a Middle Eastern country. We all knew when, where, and how it would be played.

So did the players. If they came in soft or tight/stiff and then tried to jump right into a frenzied competition, how is that the fault of the World Baseball Classic and its proponents? Nobody is forcing these guys to play and they should know what they're getting into.

If the athletes feel pressured into representing their countries (laughable), then they should take preparation for it more seriously. The solution is not to kill the Classic by tinkering it to death.

The solution is to understand that most of these injuries are actually precautionary rather than reactionary.

The solution is to accept that bad breaks happen and will happen in Spring Training, too.

The solution is to demand a touch more accountability from the guys who go down due to their own laziness or lack of discipline. Or at least less sympathy.

Most of all, the solution is to watch the damn thing and appreciate it. Warts and all. Because it sure beats the hell out of Spring Training.

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