World Baseball Classic

Michael Barrett, Jeff Francoeur, and Al Leiter? My, how times have changed.

After two years of negotiations between the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) and Major League Baseball, the World Baseball Classic became a reality in 2006. However, it was a difficult process to say the least.

First, owners and the players’ union battled over who would participate. Owners, most notably George Steinbrenner, were not in favor of the WBC because they thought there was a severe risk of injury and that the potential risk (especially because the MLB teams were the ones paying players) outweighed the benefits of a competition that ultimately means nothing. The players, on the other hand, saw this as a potentially great moment in their lives. Because the MLB doesn’t allow professionals to play in the Olympics, this was their chance to play for their home country in an Olympic-like atmosphere, and as a result, there was significant meaning to the games. By the end, the players mainly won, but the owners do have the possibility of blocking players either by asking them not to or actually blocking them if they suffered a major injury the previous season.

Second, drug testing became a primary concern. The MLB wanted the Olympic testing to be put in place (possibly as a step towards doing so in actual MLB games), but the union wanted the regular MLB testing. We’ve heard this argument over and over again, and there’s not too much reason to rehash it. Ultimately, the IBAF and MLB won out, and two players were tested at the end of games for PED’s. However, anyone caught would not be subject to MLB punishments.

Third, there was a problem in Japan. Nippon Professional Baseball originally agreed to the invitation to the WBC, but the players’ union wasn’t necessarily in favor of it. They hadn’t been consulted about the Classic, and the owners had essentially unilaterally accepted the invitation. The players were also concerned about the time of year and their preparation for the season. Lastly, they wanted to be better represented in the Classic and not have so many Japanese MLB players on the team in favor of NPB players. Four months passed and the two sides agreed to accept the invitation. They would be happy with that decision in the end.

Perhaps the biggest struggle was between the US and Cuba. Since Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, the US government placed an embargo on financial transactions with the communist country. Because the WBC promises profit and money for teams, the US Treasury blocked Cuba’s application to play. When Cuba promised to give their money to the Hurricane Katrina victims, the MLB and Cuba re-petitioned the US government. Also as leverage, the IBAF and Puerto Rico threatened to pull their support from the WBC. In the end, the US Treasury did what it essentially had to and allowed Cuba into the tournament.

The WBC is back three years after its inaugural event. However, after this one, they will only be held every four years instead of the three years between the first two. The next will be played in 2013, and among the possible changes are the expansion of the series to 24 teams (16 currently) and the addition of preliminaries (which really doesn’t make too much practical sense, in my opinion).

For more on the basics behind the WBC, go here.

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