Should We Care About the World Baseball Classic?

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HOLLANDER: If you care about baseball you should care a lot about the WBC.

Baseball is dying in this country. There is no more sandlot baseball, stickball or even run-down. Kids in the United States no longer dream of playing major league baseball. You find that hunger in the dirt ballfields of San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, the impoverished slums of Caracas, Venezuela, and the sports academies in Okayama, Japan. At the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, the USA men’s baseball team wasn’t just unimpressive.  They didn’t even qualify.   

What needs to be made clear is that Major League Baseball is the wrong stage to see the best and most meaningful baseball on the planet. Every October, as the America-centric MLB plays its so-called World Series in their provincial little fishbowl, the rest of the world watches in frustration, knowing that the future of the game is in their hands. Last year, half the starters in the MLB All-Star Game were from other countries and so were both MVPs. In fact, eight of last 10 AL MVPs were non-American. Tellingly, last year, for the first time in history, a Latin manager won the World Series. Today, every MLB team has interpreters and vast Latin American and overseas scouting networks. In case you haven’t noticed, the time has long since passed when baseball was America’s pastime.   

Frankly, I don’t care. The sport may have been made in America, but it belongs to the world now. And if you’re looking to create the best baseball competition, look outside MLB. National pride in non-American countries is a stronger motivation than loyalty to a U.S. city, a better contract or a lucrative corporate sponsorship. The WBC offers the best players playing for nothing more than pride. When was the last time you saw that at any level of sports, let alone at the highest level?  How can you not be interested in that?

No sporting event in the world engenders more emotion or more excitement across time and space than soccer’s World Cup. In time, the WBC will be as big as the World Cup. This is where baseball must go. The WBC is in the best interests of baseball. It’s vital to the sport’s growth. It’s time for you to grow too, C.J.  Get behind the WBC, or get out of the way. 

SULLIVAN: Excuse me while I yawn. Are you kidding me? Your Lower East Side, red-diaper-baby worldview has gone off the tracks.

Let me see if I understand your ravings... I should care about the San Juan Sharks playing the Caracas Crushers in some Latin American stadium? Well I don’t. I’ll care when Omar Minaya signs the best players to contracts. I can barely keep up with the Mets and Yankees, never mind the rest of the world. 

Yes, Latinos are doing quite well in baseball, and have for over 40 years. Have you heard of the Alou brothers and Roberto Clemente? Vic Powell? Tony Olivia? Cesar Geronimo? Tony Perez? Now they dominate? That Latins are the best players in baseball is like telling me black guys can play some basketball. Reading you—as I have said before—is like seeing repeats of old Dick Young columns. Your “Ah-ha!” moments are decades late.

Baseball may now be played by a host of international players, and I dig that. But I only care about MLB and the World Series. Baseball is huge with or without your vaunted WBC. This thing is a blip on the screen. It is American MLB that drives the engine. Big money contracts to ballplayers are keeping Latin American economies afloat. America is where the money is, and therefore where the best baseball is played. So go and revel in your WBC. I have bigger fish to fry. I have a Super Bowl to handicap for my Las Vegas clients, young basketball and hockey seasons, and a mere three weeks until pitchers and catchers open for the real baseball league.

HOLLANDER: I see, so it’s okay for the darkies to play as long as they do it in Massa’s house? I find your kind of institutional xenophobia refreshingly old school. You employ the same rationales that were thrown around in the 1940s, when fat, white, corporate-types refused to let the Negro League All-Stars play the world champion New York Yankees. Way to be against progress, C.J. I’d say it’s you who puts the “dick” back in Dick Young.

In Archie Bunker dogmatism, you’ve even surpassed the Bush administration—which, seeing the significance of the WBC, has softened its position and allowed Cuba to participate. Cuba’s inclusion makes an event already bursting with competitive intensity loaded with political tension. The 2006 WBC is the most interesting baseball moment since Jackie Robinson first stepped on the field. 

Six weeks from now, while you’re chanting “MLB Über Alles,” baseball’s landscape will be revolutionized. In a relatively short time, the so-called World Series will become a quaint side-show, a day job that keeps some of the world’s best players in shape for the new “show”—the WBC. Regrettably, C.J., you will have to explain to your children why you were on the wrong side of history.

You know, my friend Christopher Frieri, the storied East Village independent filmmaker, says he reads our column every week, and likes it. But he asks me, “Why is Sullivan such a jackass?” I have no answer for him.

SULLIVAN: Did you write this while wearing your Pelé jersey from the ill-fated New York Generals soccer dynasty of the 1970s? 

Your LES rhetoric about “darkies” and “MLB Über Alles” is quaint. You think you are being forward-thinking, but as usual your head is in the same direction as your ass—backwards.

And just how do you equate this baseball sideshow with Jackie Robinson? Your “We Are The World” writing style may impress the failed hipsters in your local watering hole, but here on Earth, Dave, it is 2006. Anyone with game can and will get an MLB contract, and those of us with lives can barely keep up with one baseball season.

Yeah, I will watch the WBC, just like I sometimes watch the World Cup. But when sniveling Frenchmen and no-game hipsters like yourself start telling me what constitutes “sports,” I tune you out like I do John Madden when he goes wild with his pen, diagramming plays.

Next you’ll be howling that “football” is “soccer.” Look, dimwit, tell your filmmaking friend that he can kiss my Irish ass. The only football I will be concerned with on Feb. 5 is the Super Bowl, and the only baseball I care about is 21 days away from pitchers and catchers.

Now go have a “World Party,” and leave me alone while I mourn the loss of Anna Benson and her two mounds of pleasure. 

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