Opinion/The List: Top questions raised from the WBC

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 19, 2006

Are you shocked that the United States baseball team petered out before the final game of the inaugural World Baseball Classic? You shouldn’t be. Almost from its inception, this wasn’t America’s tournament to win.

And you probably have more unanswered questions. I’ll answer them when we go down “The List.”

4. Is the United States still home of the best baseball talent in the world?

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Uhh, nuh. And it hasn’t been for a while. For several decades, America had the advantage of better technology, more developed Little League systems and, of course, the greatest professional leagues known to man.

Every other country that takes the game seriously has caught up in all those areas. And the ones that haven’t are very close.

People make a big to-do about the fact that black athletes would rather play football or basketball. That is hardly a blip on the radar.

The real problem is that the way baseball is marketed in this country is outdated and irrelevant. That causes the interest of young athletes to wilt in favor of “more exciting sports.” And as the talent pool of younger players decreases, it weakens the competition in college, the minors and the major leagues.

3. What should the United States do better next time?

The next WBC will be in 2009. Plenty of time to right the ship, right? Well, maybe.

The first step should be to hold open invitations instead of selective ones. In other words, the U.S. coaching staff should let players come to them instead of soliciting their services. Then they can begin the process of whittling down talent to form the team they want.

When guys that want to be involved see other players turn down invitations, it doesn’t do a whole lot for team morale.

They should also get another manager. Buck Martinez is one of the most well-liked men in the game. But the fact that he couldn’t get a job after a pretty decent season and a half as Toronto’s skipper tells me something.

2. Does the United States have a chance in 2009?

Looking at things as they are, I would say no. And history backs me up on that one.

Since baseball became a part of the Olympic games in 1992, America has won the gold medal just once – in 2000. Its next best finish was bronze in 1996, and the team didn’t even qualify in 2004. Cuba has won the other three gold medals. It’s playing in the WBC championship tonight against Japan, which won silver and bronze in 1996 and 2004, respectively.

See where I’m going with this?

The United States can’t just throw a bunch of major leaguers on the field and wait on someone to pony up the trophy.

The game now is just as much everyone else’s pastime – and probably more.

1. Will the next WBC be better than this year’s?

I don’t see how it can’t be. The Latin and Asian teams and their fans will be twice as pumped as they are now. The non-contenders (South Africa, Italy, etc.) will get wiser and better. And the American team will read my column, heed my advice and once again take ownership of the greatest game in the world.

What are you laughing at? Bud Selig is reading this right now and kicking himself for not thinking of this stuff sooner.

George L. Jones is a staff writer at The Selma Times-Journal