Modeled somewhat after soccer's World Cup, the WBC is a major hit in most of the participating countries. The United States seems not to be one of those countries.
When negotiating with the MLB Players union, Major League Baseball pushed the WBC to become a reality, yet the union and the managers for the teams don't want their players to participate. There seems to be serious concern about player injuries. Injuries cost everybody money... the clubs who may not be a successful, the players who may lose salary, the agents that lose commission on that salary, etc.
So while MLB's international stars lined up early and often to represent their county (from the Mariners Ichiro Suzuki playing for Japan to the Red Sox David Ortiz playing for the Dominican Republic to the Dodgers Russell Martin playing for Canada) American nationals didn't seem to be concerned. At first, some of the decliners were due to a recent injury history, like the Brewers Yovanni Gallardo who declined playing for Mexico due to knee surgery last year and the Twins Joe Nathan declining to play for the USA due to a nagging shoulder injury.
But some of the players that declined, like the Brewers Prince Fielder and the Giants Tim Lincecum who did so without an injury to use as an excuse, the die became cast that this tournament wasn't worth their time (in other words, their $$$). It wasn't just players who declined to play, The Mariners Adrian Beltre begged to be allowed to play for his Dominican Republic team, but the team would not release him to play.
Specific to the USA national team, this meant a watered down roster and send a clear message to American baseball fans... this thing ain't worth it.
Sure, all of MLB started spring training a week early, but USA baseball should have had a camp starting in January to make sure the guys that were proud to wear the team colors are in game shape... they could have played against college teams, against teams going through the Carribean World Series, etc. Instead we get announcers like former adolescent Brewers announcer Matt Vasgersian and broadcasting newbie Al Leiter tell us that this IS the team's spring training and the players need to "get their work in". Hell, the MLB Network is telling us on every platform that our national team is going through an organized practice session. Funny, the MLB Network is run by the same group that negotiated with the union to hold this tournament in the first place.
I hate hearing about how USA manager Davey Johnson has to get so many pitchers so many innings (Side note; Johnson decided his stepson's wedding was more important than the WBC game last Saturday, though he did get the the stadium around the time it started). The result is that we (this is my country, so this is my team) don't have a pitcher that can go four innings (the Cubs Ted Lilly made it 3-1/3 innings in an elimination game), so they trot out one pitcher who can't throw a strike (the Dodgers Jonathan Broxton) after another (the Mets JJ Putz) after another (the Padres Heath Bell). Where the hell is the Yankees CC Sabathia? Where is the Indians Cliff Lee? Where is the Diamondbacks Brandon Webb? USA Baseball puts rummy pitchers out there to start a game, and more rummy pitchers in relief. So because of the need to carry so many pitchers, you can't carry a fair amount of positions players.
Now, I don't have nearly as much of a problem with the USA offense... I can handle every player on the team (except for the Nationals Adam Dunn, but he has proven me wrong so far, so what do I know?). But because these guys are out of shape (the Brewers Ryan Braun, the Braves Chipper Jones, the Red Sox Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis) and suffering minor strains and muscle pulls, there is no bench to speak of. I am shouting at my TV Tuesday night in the elimination game against Puerto Rico when Vasgersian is talking about Johnson's limited substitution options, while watching some crappy pitching drag a game to a four-hour marathon.
There is no really good time to hold this tournament... in March is probably the best we can do (Side note; don't even get me started on the double pool play / double elimination format. If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, then the format of the WBC is a camel with a bad knee, flat hump and flatulence). But there is no excuse at all for an out of shape team fashioned with a second-rate pitching staff.
The result is that the USA is uncompetitive in some of the games, and the long list of injuries has but the squad in a position where they've run out of players and have too many playing out of position. In Wednesday evening's Pool 2 Championship game with 3B Jones 1B/3B Youkilis already out, OF Dunn had to play out of position at 1B, and the Indians Mark Derosa (who can play any position) had to play OF due to LF Braun's injury. During that game, the Mets 3B David Wright fouled a pitch off his foot, but there was not one available substitute, forcing Wright to stay in the game manning the hot corner like a statue. Pitchers aren't ready to pitch, and position players are so out of shape that they are dropping like flies.
Somehow, the USA made it to the final four, and will play either Japan or South Korea on Sunday, March 22, with the winner to play in the Finals on Monday, March 23. USA Baseball has a chance to retool its roster (calling up and dropping players is allowed in between rounds) to come up with some healthy players. The only real corner infielders on the provisional roster are the Rays Evan Longoria and the Cubs Derrick Lee.
But I am hosed off that it came to this. Why are Americans so damn arrogant that international team sports are irrelevant? This is big stuff. The Dominican Republic (with far more known MLB names than Team USA) lost two games to The Netherlands team that only had two major leaguers on it. The Dominican press was not happy and Manager Felipe Alou had a lot of ‘splaining to do.
All baseball fans should be upset about this. We keep telling the world how great we are, and then we yawn when we get a chance to prove it. Like I said above, the USA plays its semi-final on Sunday, which is my birthday. Give me the best present possible... your passion for your national team, watch the game with the expectation that we will win, and if we lose, demand accountability. This is the only way to show the world that we are #1 in baseball.