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Nothing "Classic" About It

By: Lena Finnerty

In 2006, millions watched Japan win the first World Baseball Classic, behind the right arm of then unknown pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Dice-Man burst onto the international scene by going 3-0, with a 1.88 ERA, earning him the MVP award for the tournament. Following his breakout performance in the WBC, the Red Sox paid over 100 million dollars to sign Matsuzaka to a six-year deal, and so far the deal has paid off. Over the past two seasons Daisuke has gone 33-15, establishing himself as one of the best starters in the American League. The bottom line is that the Red Sox need him to be healthy and productive for the entire 2009 campaign if they have any hopes of playing in October.

With the 2009 WBC looming this March, many teams including Boston, stand to lose too much if one of their star players sustains an injury. Not to say that players can’t get injured during spring training… but it’s far less likely since most guys play 3 innings, then shower and hit the hot dog stand…. versus the WBC where stars are expected to play 9 innings of World Series-esque competition for three straight weeks. Players should be warming up their arms, playing pepper, and preparing for the upcoming season, instead of playing in this meaningless tournament.

Remember the miracle on ice? When the 1980 US hockey team (a bunch of college kids) beat the Russians, the big red machine, winners of the gold medal in ’64, ’68, ’72, and ’76! It was one of the biggest sports moments of the 20th century. Why don’t they transform the WBC into what the Olympics used to be? No pros, but a showcase for amateurs, college athletes, Double and Triple A players, heck even Cape league all-stars could suit up. This tournament should give players who haven’t made it to the big leagues an opportunity that they may never get again. What a story it would be if a relative unknown burst onto the scene because of an outstanding performance in the WBC… can we say Jim Craig? Major Leaguers mean too much to their franchise and to their city. The 1988 Olympics were the first games that allowed professional athletes to compete. And with the exception of the Larry Bird lead dream team of 1992, the Olympics has lost its luster. I didn’t even watch the 2008 Beijing games. I know, I know… Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals, but I was more interested in watching Alicia Sacramone punch some frat boy in the face on Youtube! The Fans don’t care about ratings in March, all they care about is their team being competitive in October, making it to the playoffs, and winning the World Series.

When do you think a Cubs or Mets fan would rather have their ace on the hill… March or October? The Mets have missed the playoffs the past two years, blowing up in grand fashion on the last day of the season, and yet 2-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana will be pitching for Venezuela in the WBC. The Red Sox have the same problem. The Rays will be back with the same team that went to the World Series last fall, and the Yankees… well they spent over 400 million in less than a month this off-season, and made their rotation look like Mound Everest.

The Red Sox need their guys rested and ready for baseball in October. Daisuke can’t take a month off in the middle of the season if he’s feeling fatigued, Jon Lester needs to win 20 games, Josh Beckett needs to return to 2007 form, Tim Wakefield isn’t getting any younger at 41, Justin Masterson seems bullpen bound again, Clay Buchholz and his 6.75 ERA will likely stay in Triple A, and who knows if John Smoltz will even be able to pitch! The Sox have too many question marks, too much uncertainty to allow their 18-2 ace to risk injury and pitch in March. So let’s change this tournament from something that is meaningless to Major Leaguers, and turn it into a showcase for amateur athletes around the globe. And then maybe, just maybe… the WBC will actually become a Classic.

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