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Wishing that baseball was more like the World Baseball Classic is to fundamentally misunderstand baseball

Mar 20, 2013, 7:35 AM EDT

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With the end of the World Baseball Classic comes, I hope anyway, the end of Jon Paul Morosi’s columns shaming baseball and baseball fans who aren’t as into it as he is. If it is, though, he’s saved a good one for last.

After saying that baseball is rarely as entertaining, passionate or captivating as it was in the final round of the WBC — and that this may be because the U.S. team wasn’t there — Morosi lays his cards on the table:

The Dominicans and Puerto Ricans didn’t give us a glimpse into baseball’s future. They showed us what the sport should be right now, with fervor that burned bright even on a cold, drizzly night at AT&T Park: Flags waved. Horns honked. Whistles blew … However briefly, baseball acquired the Did you see that? quality more commonly associated with football and basketball. The kids like that stuff, you know … now that the tournament is over, baseball (sadly) will revert to its default settings: Home-run stylings, excessive celebrations, grand spectacles of individual expression all verboten. The Code, as enforced by managers and players, makes it so.

In saying this — and saying that regular major league baseball should emulate the WBC in these respects — he’s ignoring the fundamental nature of the regular baseball season. He’s ignoring that the WBC lasts eight to ten games, not 162. He’s ignoring that it is utterly impossible for WBC-level intensity to last for six months. He’s ignoring that one the great joys of baseball is the slow build of intensity over time. An intensity which ratchets up once the pennant races get serious and then maintains over the course of the playoffs.

But he doesn’t need me to tell him this. One of the guys he himself quotes — Puerto Rico coach Carlos Delgado — says as much:

“It’s very hard to keep this intensity level over the course of 162 games,” acknowledged Carlos Delgado, the former All-Star who served as a coach for the Puerto Rican team. “I’m not saying players do not play with passion during the season, but it’s hard to do this, day in and day out. There’s a different set of emotions. You’re playing for your country. You’re only playing six or seven games. The fans get into it. It’s a great event, a great competition.

And it is a great competition. I’ll take issue with the relative importance of the thing and many of its technical aspects, but in and of itself it is great fun, it is of great importance to fans outside of the United States and, yes, it is quite intense. I have doubts it will turn into a World Cup level thing, but if it does good for baseball.

But it’s one thing to acknowledge and enjoy (as Morosi clearly does, much to his credit) the unique nature of the World Baseball Classic and another thing altogether to believe that (a) its unique nature should be the norm in regular season baseball; and (b) if it is not the norm, it is to regular season baseball’s detriment. That’s where Morosi is here, and that’s why I take issue with him.

Despite his approving nods to football and basketball in the column, baseball is not football and basketball. Or hockey or soccer for that matter, to which he also alludes. It is not “the national competition.” It is “the national pastime.” It is a game which can and often does fade into the background over the course of months as opposed to demanding that we drop what we are doing and Take Notice. It is the soundtrack or score to the summer for most people. The accompaniment which complements our days and nights, not the concert or main event which demands that we block out those days and nights and refrain from other obligations. It is always there, not as a loud roar, but as a steady, comforting hum that maintains no matter what else is going on in our lives, and thank God for that, because our lives can and often do carry plenty of drama and intensity of their own.

Those who disparage baseball — and there are many — frequently claim these things to be the very problem with the game. But baseball’s calm and steady nature and its, eventually anyway, slowly-building intensity are features, not bugs. To suggest that the very aspects of baseball which make it unique and enjoyable to so many people constitute its essential problem is to fundamentally misunderstand its essential nature.

That is where Morosi seems to be. In a place where he misunderstands that the WBC and regular season baseball are entirely different things, each of which would not be what it is if it attempted to approximate the other. In his efforts to pit the two against one another and, by extension, to pit the feelings and motivations of the supporters of the two events against one another, and in rush to conclude that one side is sorely lacking, is to miss the bloody point entirely.

  1. hyde4us11 - Mar 20, 2013 at 8:09 AM

    Well said

  2. Charles Gates - Mar 20, 2013 at 8:16 AM

    Excessive celebrations and individual expressions are part of the mundane MLB regular season, much unlike the WBC and it’s wholesome celebrations like end of game fake arrow shooting.

    • indaburg - Mar 20, 2013 at 8:41 AM

      To be fair, Rodney does the fake arrow shooting at the end of the game during the regular season too.

      Still, you’re right. His statement makes no sense. He likes excessive celebrations when it’s part of the WBC (there were plenty of other examples) but not during the regular season?

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - Mar 20, 2013 at 9:35 AM

        “He likes excessive celebrations when it’s part of the WBC (there were plenty of other examples) but not during the regular season?”

        That was how I read it to. But as was pointed out to me below, he is actually saying their should be excessive celebration in MLB – or at a minimum, it should not be discouraged.

      • indaburg - Mar 20, 2013 at 9:41 AM

        Ah, thanks for clarifying.

  3. heyblueyoustink - Mar 20, 2013 at 8:16 AM

    “He’s ignoring that it is utterly impossible for WBC-level intensity to last for six months”

    A daily dose of Blue Sky would cure this, There’d be intensity every day and stuff, yo.

  4. kw27p - Mar 20, 2013 at 8:23 AM

    I bet Americans would actually care if they rolled out a better roster than that freshman squad they put out there. How embarrassing

    • paperlions - Mar 20, 2013 at 9:02 AM

      I might care if:

      1) Players were in mid-season form instead of early spring training form

      2) The best players all played

      3) Pool play consisted of each team playing each team in their pool 3 times and once you get to 8 teams, they play at least 5 game series to advance, preferably 7 games. It is baseball, one game means little with respect to who is better, which is why the WS has never been a single game (well, that…and ticket sales).

      As currently comprised, I couldn’t care less. I just hope that no players are hurt during the exhibitions (just like ST games). I have never had a single friend or co-worker bring up the WBC to me, ever. Yet, we talk about regular season baseball, college basketball, and college/pro football almost daily.

    • ugglasforearms - Mar 20, 2013 at 9:07 AM

      I agree with your sentiment that Americans would “…care if they rolled out a better roster…” but I think you should have left off the rest of your comments.

    • elmo - Mar 20, 2013 at 11:00 AM

      I’m fine with Team USA not having an all-star roster. Their team seemed about on a par with a lot of the other teams on the tournament, a mix of players of varying experience and abilities. They weren’t bad; they might have won if they got hot at the right time, just like any other team.

  5. adowding3 - Mar 20, 2013 at 8:27 AM

    “It is the soundtrack or score to the summer for most people. The accompaniment which complements our days and nights…”

    May be the best sentiment Craig has ever expressed. Nothing says summer like warm nights with the windows open and the sounds of the game drifting around the house…

  6. DelawarePhilliesFan - Mar 20, 2013 at 8:33 AM

    Interesting contradiction:

    “…fervor that burned bright even on a cold, drizzly night at AT&T Park: Flags waved. Horns honked. Whistles blew ”

    followed by:

    “now that the tournament is over, baseball (sadly) will revert to its default settings……excessive celebrations”

    Sooooooo…..is he is favor of or against excessive celebrations? Not to mention – beyond the Ryan Howard Home Run gaze or a Jose Reyes fist pump after a Stolen Base, what excatly are these “Excessive celebrations” that occur in MLB?

    • adowding3 - Mar 20, 2013 at 8:39 AM

      He is saying that those are forbidden in the MLB according to The Code.

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - Mar 20, 2013 at 9:30 AM

        Thanks – read the quote wrong. I like your reply better then spaz boy below

    • kevinleaptrot - Mar 20, 2013 at 8:48 AM

      The quote is:
      “now that the tournament is over, baseball (sadly) will revert to its default settings: Home-run stylings, excessive celebrations, grand spectacles of individual expression all verboten.”

      Thanks for reinforcing one of my negative stereotypes about Phillies fans.

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - Mar 20, 2013 at 9:29 AM

        I didn’t have alot of coffee and read the quote wrong. I saw default setting of excessive celebrations – plus my German is a little rusty.

        No need to get all testy and make this a “Phillies thing” :)

  7. 4d3fect - Mar 20, 2013 at 8:47 AM

    So, JPM likes horns, does he?

  8. indaburg - Mar 20, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    I enjoyed the tournament, but I don’t wish regular season baseball was like that all the time. It would mean changing the game completely. Shortening the season, playing fewer games to give each game greater significance, making it more like… the NFL. No, thanks. I like the soundtrack of my summers while I contentedly eat my evening mango. (I’m going to borrow that soundtrack analogy, Craig. Thanks.)

  9. garythebat - Mar 20, 2013 at 9:10 AM

    Dave Schoenfield had an even more idiotic column about this (http://espn.go.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/33829/puerto-rico-delivers-great-wbc-story). Behold:

    “If maybe there’s something to learn from all this it could be the passion, both from the players and the fans, that we’ve seen from the non-U.S. teams. In the U.S., we often beat this out of our young athletes. Celebrate a touchdown in football and get called for a penalty. Don’t smile too much when you hit a home run. We have to play these games seriously, the right way, with life lessons to teach. I can’t help but think of Nick Saban looking grim and unhappy or college basketball coaches yelling at refs for 40 minutes. When you watch the Puerto Ricans and the Dominicans and the Kingdom of the Netherlands squad, you see the simple joy of playing the game. Don’t tell me that wasn’t a factor in some of these results.”

    Yes, you’re right, Dave, the US lost because they are aren’t passionate enough about the game. Man, I really miss the days when Rob Neyer had the Schoenfeld role at espn.com.

  10. manchestermiracle - Mar 20, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    The WBC kind of tossed the mid-summer’s game concept out the window by holding the final games in cold, drizzly San Fran.

  11. Charles Gates - Mar 20, 2013 at 9:40 AM

    @indaburg: can’t reply directly via my phone app, but that was my point. Morosi’s argument is stupidly stoopid.

    • indaburg - Mar 20, 2013 at 12:27 PM

      In my haste, I missed the word “verboten”–forbidden. My bad.

  12. steviep23 - Mar 20, 2013 at 9:49 AM

    If air horns weren’t going off every two seconds, I might’ve been able to watch the WBC.

  13. gunpowderjones - Mar 20, 2013 at 9:51 AM

    He’s talking about this primadonna behavior. Andrew McCutchen rubs one out after every double and there’s no place for that in the game

    • unclemosesgreen - Mar 20, 2013 at 10:20 AM

      No he’s not – you’re the one talking about it. He’s saying that the celebrations are fun and he wishes MLB would be less buttoned down, and stop catering to guys like you with a stick up their ass.

  14. hushbrother - Mar 20, 2013 at 10:22 AM

    Exactly. People who think a sporting event should be a nonstop crescendo of drama and intensity won’t like baseball for that reason. The dynamics of the game itself and of the long season make the sport crescendo-proof (although that’s not to say the game couldn’t use a little speeding up.) Those people can enjoy their football and video games and reality tv shows and their ADD medication.

  15. thomas844 - Mar 20, 2013 at 10:31 AM

    I think more people would be interested in the WBC if ESPN actually covered it better rather than breezing through it like they seemed to do. MLB Network did a fantastic job covering the WBC and really captured the intensity and excitement of many of the games. ESPN was too busy showing stuff like Ndamukong Suh in a reality diving show, Obama filling out his March Madness bracket, and another rehash of the history between LeBron James and the Cleveland Caveliers (as if we have never seen that before).

  16. gerryb323 - Mar 20, 2013 at 10:52 AM

    What country are the Puerto Ricans playing for?

  17. elmo - Mar 20, 2013 at 11:09 AM

    WBC & MLB Network could do a lot better than Jim Kaat broadcasting. Paraphrasing from last night: “In my day we were taught to say little when you lose, say even less when you win.” What a fossil.

  18. josuehurtado - Mar 20, 2013 at 11:44 AM

    Craig,

    This passage is seriously the finest piece of writing I’ve read on your site. I’m keeping this in my list of baseball quotes. Really well done. It’s Scullyesque.

    “It is “the national pastime.” It is a game which can and often does fade into the background over the course of months as opposed to demanding that we drop what we are doing and Take Notice. It is the soundtrack or score to the summer for most people. The accompaniment which complements our days and nights, not the concert or main event which demands that we block out those days and nights and refrain from other obligations. It is always there, not as a loud roar, but as a steady, comforting hum that maintains no matter what else is going on in our lives, and thank God for that, because our lives can and often do carry plenty of drama and intensity of their own.

    Those who disparage baseball — and there are many — frequently claim these things to be the very problem with the game. But baseball’s calm and steady nature and its, eventually anyway, slowly-building intensity are features, not bugs. To suggest that the very aspects of baseball which make it unique and enjoyable to so many people constitute its essential problem is to fundamentally misunderstand its essential nature.”

    Beautiful

    • umrguy42 - Mar 20, 2013 at 1:58 PM

      It was good. I also have to leave this here, as Craig’s words remind me of it.


      (sorry, quality may not be the best)

  19. irishdodger - Mar 20, 2013 at 12:13 PM

    It seems obvious that the Latin-American players take great pride in this tournament…arguably more than what they show in the MLB. Robinson Cano may loaf on a ground out for the Yanks but he’s playing like his pants are on fire in the WBC. The DR has approx 9 million in population and they dominate every year. The US basically takes volunteers from the MLB & leaves the future HOFers at home per their agents recommendation.

  20. emmanuelh2013 - Mar 21, 2013 at 1:22 AM

    Hello, I had to create an account to comment on this topic, because it is actually a conversation that I’ve had with a few people within the last few days, and I want to start by saying that this article was amazingly written. However, I want to really explain to you what baseball really means in the Carribean. Yes, it is the same game in the sense that it is played on the same field, and has the same set of rules, but American baseball culture, and Carribean baseball culture are two very different things. I am a Dominican- American. Born and raised in the United States, die hard Red Sox fan all my life. But, what many people don’t know is that “regular season” or “real baseball” or whatever they call MLB play is not the only professional baseball organization in the world. Every since I can remember, I’ve been watching baseball year-round. Summer time feels exactly like your article describes it. Slow, steady tension leading to October. Then those heart-stopping moments when the entire stadium is dead silent waiting for the next pitch to come in the ALCS. I get it. I get “America’s Passtime”. But then winter time comes. As soon as the WS is over, Dominican winter league starts. Many, many MLB stars play in the Dominican winter league every year (including some American players who go out there to play and stay in shape, like Jimmy Rollins). Out there, as well as the rest of the Carribean, baseball is anything but a passtime. It is life. It means to us what hockey or basketball means to the wildest of Americans. It is not impossible to keep that intensity for the entire season. The winter season is not 162 games, rather a 50-game season, then a Round-Robin playoff. Then, the champion of the country represents the DR in the yearly Carribean Series, facing the champions from Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Mexico, and they play a full series. But still, every single game is wild, loud, livid, every pitch! Plus, winter league is only 50 games, but baseball is played every day of every year on that island. With that same intensity. I can’t remember his name, but one of the MLB Network’s commentators who was speaking on the subject called Carribean baseball a different “breed” of baseball. I completely agree. I completely understand that. And that is why I know the MLB could never be this way, because we are in the United States, and in the United States the “right” way to play the game of baseball is with buttoned-down stoicism. “When you lose say little, when you win say less”. That is the American way. But the Carribean way is different! The after-game hugs and conversations between PR and DR last night were not your hypocritical “good game” pat on the back on your way back to the locker room. Dominicans and Puerto Ricans understand each other on the field, because they play that same breed of baseball themselves! The fake arrow shooting and fist pumping and yelling isn’t taunting the other team, it’s living the game the way we live it! I am in the middle of the two worlds, and I love them both! MLB ball is exactly, 100% down to the tee what you described. I grew up going to Fenway with my dad to watch Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, make history! (I was 12 in the 2004 World Series). I get the American perspective on the game of baseball(which us Carribeans owe a great thanks to for CREATING the game!) But then winter ball feels like an entire different game! Yes, it is the SAME game, same rules. 9 players on the diamond. But the atmosphere makes it an ENTIRELY different game. If you were to just look at footage of the crowd, you would not say it was a baseball game. Maybe a crazy European soccer game! That’s what baseball represents in our culture. I am going to post the url to a video of a regular season game in Dominican baseball for this past 2012-2013 season. Aguilas Cibaenas vs Tigres del Licey. Dominican version of a Red-Sox /Yankee rivalry. You will see MLB players like Manny Ramirez, Hanley Ramirez, among others. It is a little long but maybe this can help some of you capture our approach to the same game. I know this is a long response but I just hope I can help some of the people who said the Dominican and Puerto Rican teams were too animated, celebrated too much, fans were too loud, etc. understand that they are not in any way trying to disrespect the game of baseball that you love just as much as they do. But rather, that they love the same game in a different way. As fans, going to a ball game means that the group need a list of things: An air-horn, a tambora(drum), a guira(another percussion instrument), and other available instruments, a lot of people, and ready to make a lot of noise! Here is the link to the video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcIBUVtZat0

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