When I was in Houston for the Super Bowl two years ago, I found myself at a party one night at a monstrous suburban establishment attempting to disguise itself as a typical Texas hoedown bar. The shindig was due to be hosted by Shannon Elizabeth, she of “American Pie” fame and goddess of Internet fan boys the world over. The guest list included a sampling of Hollywood guests including the likes of Rebecca Romijn and Vin Diesel, which should have tipped me off right there that this was going to be one lame evening.
In the end, it turned out the only semi-known celebrities that bothered to show up were former Cowboys star Ed “Too-Tall” Jones (who, frankly, was of average height) and Toronto Blue Jays catcher Greg Zaun. Greg Zaun. Folks weren’t exactly calling up their best friends to shriek about meeting Greg Zaun. Shannon Elizabeth didn’t bother to show up to what was supposedly her own party, but she was nice enough to call and leave me a message later detailing her reasons and asked if we might meet up for a nightcap. At least that’s what I wrote in to the Penthouse forum.
I bring this up for two reasons.
One, it’s Super Bowl week, in case you forgot, what with those Patriots not being the ones forced to put up with the sheer idiocy of media day in Detroit yesterday.
Two, the World Baseball Classic is looking more and more like it’s going to end up like that night in Texas.
Barry Bonds! Alex Rodriguez! Manny Ramirez! Miguel Tejada! Come watch them play for civic pride in the WBC! So boasts Major League Baseball in the all-out marketing blitz for the first of its kind international competition, beginning in March at various locations in America, Japan, and Puerto Rico.
No longer will baseball fans have to envision a competition in which their favorite Major Leaguers go head-to-head with the fan base of their respective countries behind them. It is what the diverse NHL dream teams have been to the Olympics, with the very real possibility that Dominican Republic ends up like the embarrassingly dominant American NBA dream team.
It’s been an idea bandied about for many years. Now it’s finally here. And American baseball fans have responded with a resounding and definitive, “Eh.”
Despite delivering all the buzz of a Juicy Juice, it took me some waffling time to decide how I felt about the WBC, kind of how Alex Rodriguez can’t decide which country to play for, his native US, or his native…um, DR. And perhaps it was the Yankees’ third baseman’s idiotic ability to actually make a choice that started to turn me off to the idea of it all.
The stipulations as to which players play on which country’s roster are no less than a joke. Witness Team Italy, where if you’ve slurped spaghetti at any point over the past four years, you’re in. Mike Piazza was born in Pennsylvania; former UMass star Ron Villone in New Jersey. Red Sox hurler Lenny Dinardo was born in Miami, which just screams “Italia” doesn’t it?
The WBC rules stipulate that players must have a parent, either alive or deceased, who was a citizen in the country they play for. Or if that’s not too open an interpretation, he must at least have a parent who was born in that country. Apparently if Ichiro’s grandmother suddenly gave birth during a trip to South Africa, he could choose to play for that team instead of Japan. Brilliant.
No one player illustrates the stupefaction behind all this than Oakland pitcher Dan Haren, who was placed on the team from the Netherlands, despite the fact that his father is 100 percent Irish and his mother 100 percent Mexican. Based on this, and my parents’ Irish-Polish heritage, I firmly believe in my eligibility to play for the Pygmie team.
Haren has never even been to the Netherlands, apparently using the Roman Moroni excuse to bow out of the tournament, and an increasing amount of stars are joining him in dropping out as well.
Mariano Rivera won’t be playing for Panama. Hideki Matsui won’t represent Japan. Tim Hudson and Lance Berkman are out for the USA. Barry Bonds just dropped out of the competition last week. Today it’s Robinson Cano and possibly Andy Pettitte. Tomorrow, expect more, as players are starting to concern themselves with either injury or not being fully prepared to play in the upcoming 2006 season.
Who can blame them? Tickets are selling as if this were an “Andrew Ridgley sings the songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber” tour. The inherent risk taken in someone like Red Sox pitcher Julian Tavarez giving his all for his native Dominicans instead of simply stretching out and preparing for the long haul with the franchise that is paying him $6.7 million over the next two seasons is ludicrous. Whom do the Red Sox blame if Tavarez throws out his arm and is forced to spend the start of the season on the disabled list? Explain to me again why Bud Selig and the Powers that Be decided that spring training was a good time to do this? This is like the NFL holding the Pro Bowl in July, when, let’s face it, nobody would still watch it.
“We're supposed to believe this is a serious competition, and yet it's timed for when the players are in the worst possible condition for baseball they can be, and the most dominant force in the entire tournament will be pitch counts,” ESPN’s Buster Olney writes. “If they wanted the best possible competition, they would stop the regular season in July, split up into national teams and stare each other down on the diamond for a couple of weeks. But they won't do that because it'll cost Major League Baseball money, and so what we are left with is something a little more serious than those Rock 'n' Jock softball games. A-Rod would have a tough time picking a team for that, as well.”
Under that scenario, interest would surely be at a much higher level, and players are at least in better physical shape in which injury factors are less of a concern than they might be in March. Temporarily shut down the season? The NHL has proven already that they can do it just fine during an Olympic year, as it will do yet again in a matter of days.
One baseball official tells Jayson Stark that if the general managers of the game had a say as to when to play the WBC, “it would be at least 27 to 3 against holding it in March.” No doubt. It frankly makes no sense on so many levels, the reason that participants are going to start dropping like Ivan Rodriguez’s waist size over the coming weeks.
If you’re a Red Sox fan, you hope guys like Jason Varitek, Mike Timlin, Ramirez, and David Ortiz join them, not wanting them to risk getting injured. If you’re a baseball fan, you just wish the whole thing, a fantastic, Olympic-sized idea, were put together a whole heck of a lot better.
And in case you’re wondering, Greg Zaun isn’t on the United States’ guest list. Players keep dropping out though, and he could be starting soon enough.