Justin Verlander announced yesterday that he would not participate in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. While the proclamation was likely met with disappointment from the select group of baseball fans who enjoy the WBC; as a Tigers’ fan, I breathed a sigh of relief.
Make no mistake, when Verlander is on the mound it’s a must see event. The Detroit Tigers have not had a rich history of pitching depth. While attending a game in the past, when a Tigers’ pitcher took to the mound, that was the time when fans would head for the restrooms and beer lines. That is definitely not the case with Verlander. Hell, I even set aside my own self-imposed rule about turning to golf on my television (unless I am in need of sleep and out of NyQuil) over the weekend, hoping for the chance at seeing him tee it up and hang out with Clint Eastwood in the Pebble Beach Pro Am.
Justin’s involvement in the WBC was a bit of a roller-coaster ride. He ruled it out at first, then said he’d “love” to participate and kept the door open, but shut it on Monday, stating he felt he was behind where he usually is at this point in his off-season.
Whatever the reason, I am happy he decided to stay in Lakeland. The Tigers’ have gone deep into the postseason in two straight seasons. Verlander, ever the workhorse, has gone six innings or more in nearly every game he has pitched in the regular and postseasons of 2011-12. With nearly 540 innings of work since Opening Day 2011, he didn’t need to be throwing meaningful innings in March.
The Tigers’ other star player, reining Triple Crown Winner Miguel Cabrera, will suit up for Venezuela. It is not as concerning with a hitter getting meaningful at-bats during a period in which at-bats really don’t matter, however somewhat concerning is his shift from third to first base for the tournament. After spending his entire season at the hot corner in 2012, and doing an admirable job considering expectations were beyond low, hopefully adapting back to third won’t be a problem for Miggy.
I know Anibel Sanchez and Octavio Dotel will be pitchers in the WBC, but Dotel will have limited work as a reliever and Sanchez hasn’t pitched an overly high level of innings in recent years.
As you can likely tell from this article, I am not a fan of the World Baseball Classic. I thought it was an intriguing idea when it debuted in 2006, however, as usual, MLB bungled it.
Having it during Spring Training is not the answer. At the conclusion of a season, players ease off their workout regimen to both rest their bodies and get them ready for the grind of the next season. Placing the tournament during a time when veterans are basically going through the motions means the caliber of play is suspect.
A better solution would be to hold it in November, after the World Series, however you would have the opposite issue that you have in March. While the World Series participants would be fresh, it would have been more than a month since the majority of participants have taken to the diamond.
The best solution would be to pause the regular season, cancel the All-Star Game, and play it in July. It only comes around once every four years, so no All-Star Game every fourth year would not be the end of the world. You’d get players at the peak of their seasons and likely would find more of them participating.
Of course, baseball would have to stop awarding home field for the World Series based on an exhibition game and award it based on the best record of the two participants, something other sports have no problem doing.
The other problem with the WBC is that world tournaments are not that important to the average American sports fan, especially in baseball which has become a very regional sport. In other words, while Detroit cares a lot about the Tigers, ratings for a national game between the Cardinals and Cubs will not a get a very high television rating in the Detroit area. It would be even worse for Team USA, made up of players from other MLB teams, minor leagues and colleges.
Perhaps placing it in the dead zone of early July, where baseball is the only thing on the sporting map, would garner more interest to both the event and Team USA.
In the meantime, I will be happy that, for at least the next two seasons, the only team that Justin Verlander will be suiting up for to throw a baseball will be the Detroit Tigers.