The good news is that spring training starts this week.
The bad news is that the World Baseball Classic will ruin a good thing almost before it starts.Baseball’s answer to the Olympic Games, while fun to watch, is harmful to virtually all of the 30 major-league teams – though managers only mumble complaints in private because of a gag order imposed by the old commissioner and maintained by the new one.
The WBC is even more harmful to the fans who flock to Florida and Arizona for a sneak preview of their teams but wind up seeing only minor-league substitutes.
Take the Atlanta Braves as a case in point.
Ten players from its probable 25-man roster will be missing after March 6, when the World Baseball Classic begins on March 6.
Three of them are starting pitchers: staff ace Julio Teheran, who will play for Columbia, will join newly-acquired Bartolo Colon (Dominican Republic) and Jamie Garcia (Mexico) in the exodus from Disney World.
Just for good measure, Gold Glove centerfielder Ender Inciarte will play for Venezuela and first
baseman Freddie Freeman will don the uniform of Canada – because his mother was born there!
That’s the main weakness of the WBC: teams are fabricated without foundation. In past years, Mike Piazza played for Italy because he has Italian heritage, Shawn Green played for Israel because he’s Jewish, and Brad Ausmus managed an Israel team that shouldn’t even be part of this misnamed “classic.”
We won’t even get into the rationale of creating a South Africa team. How many big-leaguers even have South African roots?
While there’s no question Cuba, Venezuela, Japan, and the Dominican Republic have strength in both numbers and talent – not to mention an overloaded United States squad – there’s also no question that the games shouldn’t detract from spring training.
Established teams sell tickets to exhibition games but put a poor product on the field whenever the WBC rears its ugly head – every three years or so.
In addition to the enormous conflict of interest, there’s also a conflict of conditioning. Trainers tell players to take their time and round into shape slowly. But WBC players are expected to produce peak performances without adequate prep time. Injuries always result.
Beyond that, the mumbling managers are right that the timing is wrong. Brian Snitker, beginning his first full year as field boss of the Braves, won’t even be able to determine the best pecking order of his starting rotation until his three veteran pitchers return.
A full spring training would also allow Atlanta catchers to learn the repertoires and preferences of Colon and Garcia. Now that may have to wait for April and actual game situations.
In fairness, teams should be cutting the prices of tickets to 2017 spring training games. Instead, many are raising them – realizing they have the freedom to gauge the fans even when the games don’t count.
World Baseball Classic games count even less. Those teams will disappear into the dustbin of history after a few weeks anyway.
“I think it’s idiotic,” says Mike Schuman, a travel writer and book author from Keene, NH. “For one thing, if there is a WBC, it should be after the World Series. When it’s taking place in March, there are too many chances for players to injure themselves right before the season starts.
“And the assignment of players to their countries’ teams is often absurd. A few WBCs ago, Lenny DiNardo of the Red Sox played for Italy even though he had been to Italy in his life.
“Finally, does anyone really care, at least in the U.S.? No one I know does.”
Bob Ibach, former public relations and publications director for the Chicago Cubs, agrees. “It’s just another money grab,” he says of the WBC. “It’s not good to push those players so hard so early in the spring. Get injured in this silly series and your team, which is paying your salary, gets hurt.
“It’s a horrible idea. It must have belonged to Bud Selig & Co. It makes all the major-league exhibitions B-squad games – scrimmages – even though fans are paying A-game prices. It’s just brutal.”
Elsewhere in baseball:
With newcomer Sean Rodriguez sidelined until midseason by shoulder surgery resulting from a January car crash, Atlanta acquired 35-year-old second baseman Brandon Phillips, already an area resident, from Cincinnati Sunday . . .
Surprised to see Jeff Francoeur and Kelly Johnson, two ex-Mets, still unsigned . . .
After tying for the National League lead with 41 homers, free agent signee Chris Carter could wind up as Mark Teixeira’s successor as first baseman for the New York Yankees . . .
Cerebral southpaw Craig Breslow, most recently with the Boston Red Sox, should help the youthful Minnesota Twins bullpen . . .
Official baseball is quietly celebrating the coming sale of the Miami Marlins by mercurial owner Jeffrey Loria.