MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

What I have been able to watch, the World Baseball Classic has been very entertaining, highlighted by two thrilling victories down the stretch by the United States and Japan, who met in last night’s championship game, which, given I’m writing this yesterday afternoon, I don’t know who won. But I will by the time you read this today because I’m planning to watch the game last night.

Got that? Good. That makes one of us.

The reason I bring up the WBC today (or is it yesterday?) is that there has been mounting discussion of late about moving the event and making it a mid-summer event, rather than a late winter/early spring event.

This idea was championed on Tuesday morning by Chris Branch of The Athletic in the daily “The Pulse” blog (always a great read). Branch feels the tournament should be moved to the Major League Baseball midseason for a number of reasons, saying that because of the timing of the event it is overshadowed “by NCAA Tournament basketball, not to mention the NBA’s playoff race and NFL free agency. Moving it to the midseason — ideally during the All-Star break — gives the WBC no competition.”

Branch goes on to point out that the games have been fantastic, and they have been.

“The world would watch,” Branch writes, “probably a lot more fervently than it’d watch a stale All-Star bonanza or any other summer regular season baseball game.”

He offers that the idea is not as far-fetched as it might seem to be, as “Soccer does this best, with the World Cup and even other tournaments like the Champions League running concurrently to some professional seasons. The WBC wouldn’t draw eyes like the World Cup, but it would be better than what we have now.”

Branch believes the money could be figured out in a way to give MLB enough of a cut to make it work and that ratings “would be bananas,” guaranteeing the players “would line up to play, just as they do now.”

On those two points I contend that with MLB and the NFL, there is never enough of a cut, no matter how much it might work, that will make either entity of greed happy. The NBA would be the only professional sports league in North America that would even be open-minded enough to consider making something like this work. Baseball and football owners? Uh-uh. No way, no how.

As for the players lining up to play, while I freely admit the idea and the notion of representing one’s country is appealing, I believe it is likely more appealing in the dead of winter when an opportunity to escape the grind of spring training is on the table. I doubt it would be as appealing in the middle of the regular season, which is a 162-game grind, when players are happy to get a rest at the All-Star break while they are being paid their multi-million dollar salaries.

I do not believe players would risk injury for a midseason exhibition no matter how much it means to represent one’s country. Nor do I believe MLB owners and front offices would be too keen on taking the risk either. They sweat the injury potential enough when the event is held at the beginning of spring training, which explains why every MLB pitcher in the WBC has been used the way they were used.

Just how happy, for instance, do you suppose the New York Mets are to be without their star closer, Edwin Diaz, who has had season-ending knee surgery after being injured (granted, in a freakish way) during a game-ending celebration when Puerto Rico shocked the Dominican Republic in the WBC?

This is not to suggest that an injury to a player of Diaz’s status should mar the WBC, what it stands for, or what a great event it is, but with the injury coming in mid-March, at least the Mets have time to figure out their Plan B. What kind of time would teams have should injuries such as Diaz’s occur in July? Not much.

As for the ratings being bananas, I’m not so certain about that either. Baseball fans are watching and enjoying the WBC now because they are excited to see actual live baseball games during the winter. But a baseball fan can see all of the baseball games he or she wants to see in the summer anyway. As the great Earl Weaver said, “This ain’t a football game. We do this every day.”

For that reason, I do not believe it would be watched as fervently as some would believe because of the everyday of it. And, oh, yes, it’s warm during the summer and the weather is a lot nicer. People like to be outside during the summer and take vacation.

As for the contention that even though the WBC would not draw the way the World Cup does it would still “be better than what we have now,” what’s wrong with what we have now?

The World Baseball Classic is what it is; it is when it is, and it is a great event, complementing, not interrupting, the Major League season perfectly.

By always insisting upon having something better than we have now we are likely to screw up two pretty great things we have now.

The split season did not work for MLB in 1981. Neither did the attempted coup to reinvent the wheel.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT