Baseball Classic mirrors world events

The game mirrored an image of what ails America throughout the world – its violation of equality between nations and international laws and norms – highlighting the favoured treatment given to the U.S. team by the Classic’s rules, writes Prof WILLIAM B. GOULD IV*

B'BallWorldCartoon.Market(20 March 2006) – THE long-discussed genuine World Series could not have been timed more propitiously. In the past five years, the United States has gone from being one of the world’s most respected nations to the object of scorn and downright hatred in every nation beyond our borders. Aside from expanding Major League’s Baseball’s markets to new frontiers (this was baseball’s basic purpose), a 16-team tournament among the nations of the world was a welcome foil to American unilateralism and xenophobia.

But the World Baseball Classic didn’t turn out that way. Paradoxically, baseball’s true objective was realized through Team USA’s elimination – which will only enhance baseball markets abroad – particularly in countries like Mexico and Korea where teams performed the fundamentals so creditably. The global diplomacy part remains far more problematic.

The crowds, though modest in most of Arizona’s first round, swelled in both enthusiasm and numbers for the second round, with the festive Mexican supporters shouting “Mexico, Mexico!’’ and whistling like soccer fans in support of their talented club, which knocked America out of the Classic. Korean-Americans filled Anaheim for their confrontation with Japan.

The second round highlighted some of the behaviour that has caused the U.S. problems overseas – the Iraq war and defiance of international law – illustrating America’s insistence on making rules to its advantage. The controversial U.S.-Japan game put the brightest spotlight on that tendency.

Of the 37 umpires assigned to the Classic, 22 were from the United States. In the U.S-Japan matchup, three of the four umpires were American, the fourth being Australian. None of the umpires was Japanese, an absence which eroded the appearance of impartiality.

justicescalesThe United States defeated Japan 4-3 in that game, scoring the winning run in the ninth inning. But as television cameras proved later, an American umpire erroneously disallowed a run that would have put Japan ahead in the eighth inning. The umpire mistakenly reversed his colleague, saying that a runner who had scored on a sacrifice fly had left the base before the ball was caught, altering the game in favour of the United States.

To the rest of the world, the game mirrored an image of what ails America throughout the world, highlighting the favoured treatment given to the American team by the Classic’s rules.

The rules required limits on the number of pitches thrown by one pitcher, i.e., “pitch counts.’“ The pitch-count rule was established so that American players, just beginning their spring training, would have less chance of injury – and so that owners, fearful of player injuries, would be induced to support the Classic. But the Japanese were disadvantaged, because they were already a month into spring training in their country and their players were in shape to begin a regular season without pitch-count constraints.

Pitch counts meant teams had to use more pitchers, depleting teams’ relief corps. This in turn meant that days of rest between games was far more important than it is in a regular season. In the Classic’s first round, the United States had two days of rest. Canada and Mexico had none.

Equally important, by design, the United States was not required to play the vaunted Dominican, Venezuelan, Puerto Rican or Cuban squads before the tournament’s semifinals. Nevertheless, the Americans were ousted by their losses to Korea and Mexico.

The World Classic, on the whole, provided much inspiration and excitement. But the bias in favour of the United States needs to be eliminated if this is to be a truly international affair in which all nations are treated with respect.

Perhaps a future Classic (one is planned for ‘09) could be scheduled in November, when there are warm-weather sites in both North and South America, as well as Japan and South Africa. Then there should be no pitch counts or disparate days of rest – just baseball. The argument against November is that American players will be exhausted at the end of the regular schedule, but most major league teams will be home resting in October while the playoffs proceed.

Commissioner Bud Selig deserves applause for instituting the Classic, but its rules must change. Otherwise, this innovation runs the risk of being just one more instance of American hubris – a demonstration of the behaviour that has placed us in such international disfavour. And a unique chance to begin the necessary healing would be lost.

*William B. Gould IV is the Charles A. Beardsley professor emeritus of law at Stanford University School of Law and was the chairman of the National Labor Relations Board in the Clinton administration that resolved the 1994-95 baseball strike.

Source: The San Jose Mercury News (California) © 2006

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