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Baseball did Astros no favors this week, but here's how they can make it right
I’m hearing voices in Houston sports media calling for the end of the World Baseball Classic – or at least a boycott by the Houston Astros – because Jose Altuve suffered a broken thumb during the Venezuela vs. USA game, will require surgery, and is out for 8-10 weeks.
I know, it sucks that our star second baseball and team leader will miss about a third of the 2023 season. But it wasn’t the World Baseball Classic that threw the 96 mph fastball that struck Altuve in the hand – it was a pitch that got away from Colorado Rockies reliever Daniel Bard – a respected MLB veteran, former first-round draft pick and winner of Comeback Player of the Year in 2020.
It just happened to one of our guys. It happens.
Blaming Altuve’s injury on the World Baseball Classic makes no more sense than pinning Lance McCullers’ latest injury on MLB’s traditional spring training. McCullers was diagnosed with an elbow strain after throwing a bullpen session at Astros camp in West Palm Beach, Fla.
At least Altuve incurred his unfortunate injury facing an experienced MLB veteran in a game that meant a lot to the Astros’ future Hall of Famer. It wasn’t during a meaningless game in Florida against a minor league pitcher with control problems wearing No. 92 on his uniform with no chance of making the parent club.
I like the World Baseball Classic. Judging from TV ratings on Fox Sports channels and large crowds, the event was a success. Teams from 20 countries participated – that’s 14 more countries than sent baseball teams to the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo.
The WBC is growing in popularity and participation. Twenty countries sent teams to the WBC this year, up from 16 last time. Great Britain, the Czech Republic, and Nicaragua sent teams for the first time. They joined squads from traditional baseball powerhouses like the USA, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico, Japan, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and The Netherlands. Yes, The Netherlands. They take baseball very seriously there.
China and Chinese Taipei played together on the same field. Israel sent a team, including Bellaire Little League product Josh Wolf.
Baseball needs the WBC if it wants to expand its footprint globally like the NBA has, and the NFL is trying to do.
Some are saying, fine, the WBC has its merits but springtime isn’t the right time. Players are out of shape, at least not in midseason baseball shape, and the event is competing for media coverage with March Madness, NFL free agency, and the NBA’s playoff push.
While that’s true, any time of year you picked for the WBC would clash with other big-time sports events. Sports is a yearlong obsession worldwide.
A reasonable rescheduling might be during the middle of the MLB season, during what is now the All-Star break. Soccer takes midseason breaks for tournaments. Sure it will be weird at first for baseball, but the All-Star Game isn’t the attraction or honor it once was. Now players make suspect excuses to avoid playing in it.
Doing away with baseball’s All-Star Game and slotting the WBC in its place might be a good idea. The NFL has all but killed its Pro Ball and replaced it with a silly flag football game that nobody cares about. The NBA All-Star Game is a joke 3-point contest with even less defense than the actual 3-point contest.
And while baseball players may not be in midseason form during the WBC now, it’s not like the old days when players needed spring training to lose winter flab and wake up their muscles from hibernation. Most baseball players stay in shape all year. They have personal trainers, private chefs and workout rooms in their swankiendas. Back when, baseball players worked at local breweries and sponsors’ businesses during the winter to make ends meet. Not today.
Spring training, come on, really is a little ridiculous. The Astros will have played 30 practice games before Opening Day this season. NFL teams play only three preseason games. NBA teams play only four. College football teams play only none.
The championship game of the World Baseball Classic has the USA with its superstar lineup including Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and many more against Japan with some guy named Shohei Ohtani. How perfect is that?
The WBC truly is a “world series” for the sport. It may take a little tinkering but baseball needs it. Even if it hurts at first – more precisely at second if you’re the Astros.