More American support like this would be evident if the United States was playing Olympic baseball instead of in the World Baseball Classic. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

World Baseball Classic Doesn't Quite Hit Home

Before this weekend probably no one noticed that the initials of the World Baseball Classic–WBC–are the same as the World Boxing Council. We thought they were playing for the baseball championship of the world, but it turns out the classic tournament was for the heavyweight championship of the world.

Tag team fighting, Canada versus Mexico, added a little bit of spice to an otherwise fairly routine baseball game between the two countries that sandwich the United States on the map. Canada won the game, which was the main goal of the day, and the fight was pretty much rated a draw. As in most baseball fights, little about the outbreak of fisticuffs made much sense and as usual revolved around the belief that pitcher A was purposely trying to hit hitter B with a pitched ball (he was).

Boys will be boys and although this baseball fight appeared to be more like the real thing with actual punches thrown rather than the milling around with some shoving that normally attends such matters it still didn’t seem to cause any injuries other than bruised egos among the losers who caught a punch on the lip or some such.

Because Canada was involved, a whole spate of jokes broke out relating the unscheduled bout to hockey fights. I always loved Larry Walker as a player, and although I have not heard his name in five years or so except for his listing on the Hall of Fame ballot, I now know what Canada’s second greatest player (behind Ferguson Jenkins) has been doing. Turns out Walker is a stand-up comic who has secretly been writing material for Second City. OK, not really, but he could be.

The retired outfielder with a lifetime .313 average in 17 years of play was batting higher than that with his one-liners uttered over what he saw in the battle royal. Walker, a coach for the Canadian team, was minding the first-base box when the action erupted. “It’s Saturday night,” Walker said, “Hockey Night in Canada.”

Acting as a peacemaker of sorts Walker talked Mexico’s first baseman Adrian Gonazlez out of getting involved so he wouldn’t get hurt and blow his 2013 season. (The Dodgers should send Walker a thank-you note.) However, Walker did match up with Mexican relief pitcher Alfredo Aceves. Walker didn’t get Aceves’ shirt pulled over his head as every good Canadian boy knows he must accomplish in a fight. “I had hold of him and I think I saw Satan in his eyes,” Walker said.

If Walker doesn’t pick up a few more Hall of Fame votes for his brilliant all-around performance under duress during this roll-with-the-punches mini-war that presumably will not lead to a greater international incident, then there is not much he can do to aid his election.

Meanwhile, it says something about the overall impact of the World Baseball Classic–at least in the United States–that this fight between two neighboring countries garnered more attention than how the United States is doing in the games.

If this was Olympic baseball with the pros playing–same guys, different tournament–far more attention would be focused on the games. It’s that simple. In almost every sport American fans care more about what happens every four years in the Olympics than they do every other year in the world championships.

The shame of it is that Olympic baseball had its fling and was discarded by the International Olympic Committee. An Olympic baseball tournament including these same guys, the same all-stars split up among their countries, would be just as riveting and exciting as the Olympic basketball in the Summer Games and Olympic hockey in the Winter Games. The main reason the World Baseball Classic exists and is played in March is because Olympic baseball could never host the best players, scheduled as it was always going to be while the Major League season was underway.

This said, the World Baseball Classic is a much bigger deal in Japan, South Korea, Cuba and just about every other country entered besides the United States. Call it the Olympics and American baseball fans will start waving those little red, white and blue flags, but call it something else and they shrug. Maybe if the United States had been embroiled in the brawl instead of either Mexico or Canada U.S. fans would get revved up.

But nothing short of on-field rioting seems capable of making Americans care very much about how their team fares in the WBC, even if the baseball is good and national pride is on the line.

Tags: World Baseball Classic

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