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Despite Critics And Detractors, World Baseball Classic Endures And Continues To Grow Sport

Despite Critics And Detractors, World Baseball Classic Endures And Continues To Grow Sport

One of the original brains behind the World Baseball Classic says he and the organizers of the global tournament never intended the event to be a one-off showcase of elite baseball talent.

“This was not expected to be a one-off,” said Bob DuPuy, former Major League Baseball president and chief operating officer. “(The 2006 WBC) was the inaugural version that would evolve as we learned about it and learned what worked.”

Now, nearly two decades after the 2006 version — which ended with Japan winning the championship game against Cuba — the 2023 World Baseball Classic is generating plenty of excitement and patriotic fervor, not to mention renewed criticism.

From Team USA’s dramatic TISI win over Venezuela that pushed the Americans into the ’23 semifinals against Cuba, to the public outcry over injuries to stars like Edwin Diaz and Jose Altuve, there’s no shortage of debate about the pros and cons of the tournament.

But all one needs to look at is a quote like that from Team USA’s Treo Turner to see that the players treat the WBC with the same pride and passion they treat the MLB postseason.

“It was a big homer. It was fun,” Turner, the Phillies shortstop, told Fox after his eighth-inning grand slam gave the Americans the lead in their quarterfinal game against Venezuela. “That’s why we play. That’s why we’re here. Just back and forth all day. It was amazing.”

Altuve broke his right thumb in the same game against Team USA after being hit by Daniel Bard’s fastball, and the Astros second baseman is out indefinitely. While Altuve’s injury occurred during the game, Diaz suffered the freak injury while celebrating Team Puerto Rico’s victory over the Dominican Republic. Diaz, who is close to $102 million to the Mets, suffered a torn patellar tendon and is expected to miss the entire 2023 MLB season.

Despite the social media backlash following Diaz’s and Altuve’s injuries, WBC games continue to draw crowds and some of the sport’s biggest stars — Angels teammates Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani representing Team USA and Team Japan, respectively.

DuPuy says that when the original WBC plans were discussed, one of the biggest hurdles to clear was securing approval from the Players Association on several fronts, given that the tournament would take place in the middle of spring training.

“The only concern was when to have it (staged) and what impact it would have on major league rosters and spring training,” DuPuy said. “Owners and players and the union were rightly concerned about the risk of injury. But I think everyone has come together around the idea that it’s positive for international exposure and the growth of the sport. The players and union embraced the concept. (Former MLBPA executive director) Gene Orza played a very active role throughout.”

Once the players showed up, DuPuy says WBC organizers were fortunate to have stars like Hall of Famers Derek Jeter and Chipper Jones and Ichiro Suzuki sign up to play for their countries.

“We’ve had a lot of success with all-star tours in Japan,” says DuPuy. “We were trying to break into China. We felt that Asia was a mature baseball market, and obviously Latin America as well. We also thought that the possibility of a Cuban team participating would be a real result.”

DuPuy remembers traveling to Tokyo for the Pool A game — which represented China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea — and blogging for, which was still in its infancy. “The Tokyo Dome was packed,” says DuPuy. “The Korea/Japan game was a monster.”

Japan won both the WBC tournaments in 2006 and 2009, while the Dominican Republic was crowned WBC champion in 2013 and Team USA won it all in 2017.

“There’s no question, the players deserve a lot of credit for being willing to step out of their routine and do something different, modify the training,” says DuPuy. “I think the players have accepted that, and I think they’re enthusiastic, they’re treating the WBC seriously within the constraints of the rules and the structure.

“Our fans have the luxury of watching the best players in the world 162 games a year among 30 teams,” added DuPuy. “In the beginning, for Japanese fans, Korean fans, European fans, Latin American fans, they got to see these players go up against the best players in the world in this format, and it was very exciting. I think the WBC has done that and the interest just continues to grow.”

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