But was it worth it for the Royals?
Last night Shohei Ohtani struck out Mike Trout in a much-anticipated matchup to give Japan a 3-2 victory over the United States to win the 2023 World Baseball Classic. The championship game came on the heels of a thrilling semi-final game in which Japan defeated Mexico on a two-run walk-off double, sending Japanese announcers in a frenzy over the “sayonara” win.
This year’s games were a successful box office draw, breaking WBC attendance records and drawing a record amount of global TV viewers. It was not without controversy, as some MLB fans – notably political commentator Keith Olbermann – found the tournament “meaningless” and called for it to be shut down once Mets closer Edwin Diaz suffered a potentially season-ending knee injury in celebration after a game.
Is the World Baseball Classic worth it?
For the game of baseball, the answer appears to be a resounding yes. The games had a terrific global reach, advertising an exciting brand of baseball around the world. For years, commentators have argued baseball needs to promote its stars more, and this was a great platform to not only let their biggest stars show what they can do, but do it with flourish and the passion of playing for their home country.
It’s hard to describe what Randy Arozarena has done these past couple weeks pic.twitter.com/fEYZIk2ier— Jomboy Media (@JomboyMedia) March 21, 2023
For baseball audiences, the answer also appears to be yes. The WBC was a great venue for showing how baseball can be a fun, exciting sport. Stadiums were near capacity (when was the last time you can say that about Miami?) and LOUD, with the international fanbases bringing chants, songs, and flags in an atmosphere that was more akin to soccer or football.
For players, I think the answer is also yes. There was a lot of positive feedback from players about how these games matter and how much fun it was to participate in them. While there is always an injury risk, that same risk occurs if players participate in spring training games. And for some players, the platform is an opportunity to showcase talents against the best. Just ask Nicaraguan pitcher Duque Hebbert who landed a minor league contract immediately after an impressive performance in the games.
Was the World Baseball Classic worth it for the Royals?
That’s hard to say. Certainly it was a treat for Salvador Perez who was named MVP of his pool and earned All-WBC honors for his play with Venezuela. Carlos Hernández also got some high leverage innings in for them, showing off an improved 100 mph fastball. Nicky Lopez played well for Team Italy, and while Vinnie Pasquantino did not, he certainly seemed to revel in the media exposure, team bonding, and the entire international experience.
For Brady Singer and Bobby Witt Jr. on Team USA however, it was a bit of a mixed bag. Both seemed thrilled to be chosen for the honor to be on the roster, and there was probably a lot of value in having them learn from the best players in the game. But they saw precious little actual game action, causing them to miss out on opportunities to prepare for the season.
Bobby Witt Jr. has batted three times in the WBC and Brady Singer has thrown two innings. It’s an incredible experience for them, but I can’t imagine the #Royals are thrilled about the lack of work.— David Lesky (@DBLesky) March 22, 2023
For a pitcher like Singer, who needs to capitalize on his performance last year and improve his change up, or a player like Witt, who needs to improve his shortstop defense, the loss of reps in competitive games is a missed opportunity that the Royals will hope does not set them back to begin the year.
Can the World Baseball Classic be improved?
There have already been plans made to bring back the Classic in 2026. Some have suggested how the games could be improved, from having the tournament every season, to holding it mid-season when players are already ready for baseball or even after the post-season. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred would like more star pitchers to participate, but that will be difficult as teams don’t want to risk injury and want to use spring training to stretch out pitchers arms. Perhaps teams will have to rely more on relievers – hey that’s the way MLB is going anyway.
This year’s World Baseball Classic showed that you don’t need a pitch clock or a ban on shifts to attract viewers if you have an exciting game. For the players, it was a unique experience that they’ll likely remember and cherish more than some random MLB season. Baseball has taken a beating in public relations the last decade, but this Classic showed how the sport can be its best. I’m already looking forward to 2026.