It has been 11 years since the inaugural World Baseball Classic. The spectacle was created for baseball to have some form of international competition following the removal of baseball from the Summer Olympics. Now in its fourth iteration, the tournament has become the most successful international baseball event and provides the stage for some of the game’s brightest stars to showcase their talents for an international audience.
As its name suggests, the World Baseball Classic is an international baseball tournament held every four years featuring 16 teams that are broken down into six pools of four teams. These teams then battle among one another within the pool to advance to the next round. Only the top two teams from each pool advance to the second round where the winners are again pitted to compete for the top two spots. From there, the semifinals pit the four remaining teams against one another until the final two teams play in the championship game.
The tournament typically takes place in the weeks before the beginning of the MLB regular season in order to encourage the participation of major league players. This policy has been successful in securing major and minor league talent for teams which normally would not stand a chance against perennial baseball superpowers such as the Dominican Republic, Japan and the United States.
Still, the tournament’s timing has also drawn its fair share of criticism from major league players, owners and general managers. Late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner once hung a sign in the Yankees spring training clubhouse denouncing the tournament. He made it clear to the press that he did not think his highly paid All-Stars should be playing at such a competitive level at a time when they should have been preparing for the long grind of the major league season. This same criticism has often led to teams participating in the tournament not fielding the best rosters they possibly could.
The United States, despite being the home of MLB and having arguably the biggest pool of talent to draw from, has never won the WBC. Indeed, some of the best major league players elect to stay in spring training with their own clubs. Still, other players relish the opportunity to compete and represent their country such as two-time participant and former Team USA captain Derek Jeter and New York Mets captain David Wright, whose performance in the 2013 classic earned him the nickname “Captain America.”
The WBC has also provided the first look at young stars that in future years would go on to become household names. The 2006 Classic gave much of the world its first impression of Daisuke Matsuzaka, the best pitcher in Japan at the time and eventual Classic Most Valuable Player. One year later, Matsuzaka would set off a bidding war for his services between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees, with Boston coming away the winner. The 2009 World Baseball Classic acquainted the world with a young Cuban outfielder named Yoenis Cespedes who three years later would sign a four-year, $36 million contract with the Oakland Athletics, quickly establishing himself as one of the most dynamic players in MLB before finding his current role as the Mets’ most valuable player.
The 2017 WBC will see the defending champion, the Dominican Republic team, following an undefeated 8-0 run in 2013, try to defend its crown and repeat as champions. The Dominican Republic is well equipped for this pursuit as its roster boasts some of, if not all, the best Dominican talent the Major Leagues has to offer. Third baseman Adrian Beltre, second baseman Robinson Cano and outfielders Jose Bautista and Nelson Cruz are all household names who take the time to represent their native country. The 2013 runner up Puerto Rico will look to avenge last tournament’s championship loss when it takes the field. Led by veteran Carlos Beltran, the team also features a talented group of young infielders in the Chicago Cubs’ World Series champion Javier Baez, Houston Astros star Carlos Correa and Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor.
Always a heavy favorite, Japan will seek to return to glory and repeat its championship performances in 2006 and 2009, featuring the best of renowned Nippon Professional Baseball. The Japanese will only have one player with major league experience on its roster in Astros outfielder Norichika Aoki. Another powerhouse, the United States will try to put its name in the champions’ column when it sends out a starting nine led by 2016 National League home run leader Nolan Arenado and Miami Marlins mainstays Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich.
No matter what team one roots for or what country one comes from, the World Baseball Classic promises exciting baseball and extraordinary displays of national pride as some of the world’s finest players take the field for the pride of the entire country.