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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

We got taken out of our own ballgame

SAN DIEGO -- In the end, we will remember it as the tournament that gave new meaning to ''Yankees suck."

Only this time it was Yanquis suck.

The rest of the baseball-playing world loved the inaugural World Baseball Classic. We ignored it.

Difficult as it is for us to comprehend, this time it wasn't about us. It wasn't about mom, apple pie, or the xenophobic owner of the New York Yankees who was born on the Fourth of July. It wasn't about muscle-bound sluggers who swallowed barbells and God knows what else. It wasn't about multimillion-dollar contracts, Nike deals, or Wheaties boxes.

It was about pure baseball -- an old-timey game played with intensity by proud men who execute fundamentals and emphasize team above self. It was about pitching and catching and hitting singles and moving the runner over and putting pressure on the defense and getting the man in from third with one out. It was about the boring old stuff that first made the game our national pastime.

America's lads were mercifully sent home after losing to Mexico, 2-1, last Thursday night. We failed to make the final four. And so the final three games in San Diego might as well have been a World Cup soccer match featuring Nigeria and the Netherlands. American sports fans watched the first rounds of the NCAA Tournament largely unaware that teams from Korea, Japan, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic still were playing for the World Baseball Classic championship at Petco Park.

What did ESPN think of the World Baseball Classic? The self-promotion specialists promoted the championship game throughout the day Monday, then made its audience wait 21 minutes while an NIT college basketball game played to its double-overtime conclusion. Nice. The WBC takes a back seat to the NIT. The eventual champs from Japan already led, 1-0, when ESPN finally joined the action.

Clearly, the WBC did not cater to an American audience. Had the American team advanced to the semifinal round, the US would have played a game that ended after 1:30 a.m. Sunday on the East Coast. Japan's championship win over Cuba ended at three minutes before 1 a.m. on the East Coast. This was not designed to guarantee a ratings bonanza in the New York market.

It might not have mattered much even if the Americans had made it to the final round, but certainly the shocking departure of the Yanquis did little to promote the greater good of the WBC on our shores. New York Times columnist William Rhoden already has suggested that we change the name of the World Series, and it's going to be difficult to argue that Americans are still the best at the sport we invented.

Our team was hastily assembled, did not include all of our best players (one of America's pitchers, Al Leiter, retired Sunday), and entered the tournament in midwinter form while many of the other squads were in midseason shape. Our hitters were just beginning spring training when they went about the task of trying to beat Korean pitchers who were at the top of their game.

Japan outscored us, 44-33, through the first six games. If you take away America's rout against South Africa, the US scored only 3.2 runs per game in its other five games. The long ball produced 10 of our 16 runs in those five games. Cuba, on the other hand, beat the mighty Dominican Republic, 3-1, hitting 12 singles Saturday.

We did not put our best team on the field (Jeff Francoeur, Michael Barrett, Brian Schneider?). Because the tournament was held in March, we sent players into games before they were ready. And we were embarrassed -- losing to Canada, Korea, and Mexico.

In the end, there were only two major league players in the dugouts for the championship final Monday night. Bud Selig, the inventor of the tournament, said, ''I'm thrilled, I really am," but as commissioner of Major League Baseball, he has to be a little embarrassed.

Ichiro, the lone major league star to play in the final (Akinori Otsuka does not count as a star) said, ''I sense that MLB is hurting a little bit."

Selig added, ''I said I thought that history would know this was a watershed moment and that the ramifications of it would be immediate as well as mid-term and long-term, and I don't think there's any question in my mind now. It's exceeded in intensity, in interest, in just every way that you can."

''Baseball Spoken Here," was the catchy theme of the three-week, 39-game tournament, which spanned two continents and drew 737,112 fans. In the end, the WBC infuriated Steinbrenner, diluted spring training games for fans in Florida and Arizona, and gave Americans a lot of explaining to do when they are challenged by friends from foreign lands. Baseball is still spoken in America, but now there's proof that the game belongs to the world.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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