There is no Irish in baseball. Well, unless you include Jeff Samardzija, formerly of the Fightin’ Irish from Notre Dame. But today is a good day so I don’t want to talk about that. No, today is a day when we celebrate the completely fabricated story of St. Patrick ridding the Emerald Isle of snakes. However, apparently there are snakes aplenty within the comfy confines of the World Baseball Classic.
Much attention has been focused over the past few days on the Venezuelan fans booing of Magglio Ordonez. Now, when you seem to have become the lapdog of old friend of RSBS, Hugo Chavez and you are playing in front of a bunch of people who left Venezuela because of Hugo Chavez, well, it makes sense that something has to give. And so far that something has been any residual love for Maggs.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about booing hated players. My brothers have made a sport of riling opposing outfielders from the cheap seats in left field and I’ve been known to throw a few choice words the way of batters during tight softball games. But the thing those people have in common is that they play for the opposing team. When you have become a pariah to even your own fans, it might be time to rethink your actions.
I’ll admit, I hated Maggs, too, but only when he was on the White Sox. Once he joined the Tigers and especially after that killer blast against the A’s that sent the Tigers to the 2006 World Series, he could do no wrong. But supporting the man who has managed to turn his capital city into the murder capital of the world? That might not have been the best choice.
Against Puerto Rico, some of the hatred seemed to subside and in a tight game, the Venezuelan fans were cheering every hit their team could muster. But pity the man if he pulls a Buckner or manages to strike out at an inopportune moment. Maggs, you’re on notice.
So far the 2009 World Baseball Classic has provided plenty of
nail-biting drama, including upsets by the Netherlands, Italy and
Australia, proving the magnitude of baseball’s global potential. In
recent years the NBA has had success in sending the message of its game
worldwide and to some degree, so has the NFL. Realistically speaking,
does baseball have a shot at becoming a truly universal sport and is it
premature to think that little kids in London might some day replace
the soccer ball with a baseball?
In many ways the WBC is like any other tournament. You get your share of upsets and surprises and there’s always some sort of Cinderella story. But, at the end of the day, the teams that are supposed to win usually do. Look at the run the Americans made in this year’s Classic, edging out Canada with some late inning heroics and treating Venezuela like Hugo Chavez treats the rule of law. But, when it came down to it. They faltered against Venezuela the second time around and then embarrassed themselves against Puerto Rico. The same thing is going to happen to the Netherlands and other pretenders.
Here’s the thing, though. Calling this exhibition the World Baseball Classic is a misnomer at best and an outright lie at worst. Team Italy? A bunch of American baseball players who happen to have Italian last names. Same thing with with the Dutch. Actual baseball does not exist on the European continent nor does it have any role in the sporting lives of millions of Africans and billions of Indians (with the exception of Rinku and Dinesh). Even in the Americas, baseball is far from being the most popular sport and pales in significance to soccer. In its own birthplace, the USA, baseball comes in third behind the NBA and the NFL in terms of popularity.
So, what are its chances of becoming a truly worldwide phenomenon? Somewhere between slim and none and slim is on his way out of the building. There are really two issues here and they happen to be two sides of the same coin.
Number one is the worldwide popularity of soccer and the ease of entry into playing the game. Stuff a sock with some rags and you’ve got yourself a makeshift soccer ball. Offsides can be a somewhat difficult concept at first but the rules are relatively straightforward. If you can get the ball into the goal, you score. It’s that easy. And you can play on a dirt field, the middle of the street or even indoors. Realistically, it’s hard to say that more than half the world’s population can be wrong.
By contrast, baseball is a prohibitively expensive sport, especially when you’re living on less than 2 dollars a day like a majority of the world. At the least, you need a glove, a bat and a ball but none of these are easy to come by. You need a space that’s big enough in which to play and you need enough people to field a couple teams. Once you add in the intricacies of the rulebook and the relative slowness in the speed of play, well, I think it’s safe to say that baseball’s spread has been contained.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see the popularity of baseball expand. I think it’s a wonderful way for the US to conduct soft diplomacy. And I think it’s one of the few areas in which we’ve had constructive interaction with Latin America. But, I don’t think it’s very realistic to think it will happen. The competition is too stiff and the barriers to entry are too high.
This isn’t to say that the WBC has no place and that we should give up. It’s great that every few years different countries get a chance to show their skills and it’s particularly fun to see the Cubans emerge from their isolation. But a tri-yearly celebration of international baseball is not going to overcome the incredible headstart that soccer holds, nor is it going to make it possible for a poor kid in Port-au-Prince to get a glove and go play catch with his friends. Unfortunately, that is where the warm fuzzies of the WBC run smack into the cold, hard truths of real life.
Here is but a sampling of the goings on around the league:
Alex Rodriguez Homers in Spring Training Opener
Immediately after he hit that bomb, all controversy of A-Rod’s MVP PED use and the subsequent tarnishing and questioning of his character disappeared like the hopes and dreams of Pirates fans. Well, maybe not, but one can fantasize, right?
Ryan Dempster Has Yet to Say Something Stupid
Last year during spring training, Dempster guaranteed Cub fans a World Series title. His foot-in-mouth silence at the start of this season practically guarantees another stellar regular season record, followed by a quick division series exit to the tune of 101 years. Which leads me to the fact that…
Cub Fans Still Hungover from 2008, 2007, 2003, etc.
A simple stroll through Wrigleyville these days will yield much more than the average Barleycorn date-rape and trust-fund-baby all-night-party — both of which have long been synonymous with the neighborhood. Nowadays you can still see the aftershocks of that disappointing NLDS performance against the Dodgers in the face of this guy and this guy and these guys.
Khalil Greene On Pace to Replace Ozzie Smith as Shortstop Icon
Don’t look now, but after one spring training game, off-season blockbuster acquisition Khalil Greene is on pace to hit .333 this year — which is way better than his .212 average of 2008! While John Mozeliak sits back and strokes his pompous ego, we Joe Six-Pack fans are left daydreaming of that fifth-place NL Central finish.
Yankees Lend a Helping Hand: Willing to Pay Off the Country’s $1.75 Trillion Deficit
Okay, this is a lie; but the Yankees unwillingness to cooperate just proves how anti-American the organization really is.
“But as long as the nation is obsessed with historic milestones, is no
one going to remark on what a great country it is where a mentally
retarded woman can become speaker of the house?”
Ann, sweetie-pie, remember: we had a mentally retarded man with a fancy-rich last name as president for 8 years. Let us have our speaker and please stop talking.
Indians Fans and Cub Fans Breathe Collective Sigh of Relief
Joe Borowski, possibly the all-time scariest closer for all the wrong reasons, officially announced his retirement. There are parties in the street. Check ’em out.
Tigers Fans Better Off Watching Hockey
After my esteemed colleague and Tigers apologist Allen Krause wrote his annual lament on the sad state of his team, one clever commenter riffed:
“When the tigers crush your soul as they inevitably will, just remember to look on the brightside, we still have the Red Wings.”
Enough said. Thanks, D.K.
No One Cares About Blagojevich Anymore
Or Roland Burris… or Dick Durbin strong-arming Burris to get out of town… or the poor economy… or world hunger… or the climactic dictatorship of one Hugo Chavez… dude, who cares? There’s baseball to watch!
And at last…
The MLB Network Is Seriously Affecting My Loyalty to American Idol
I apologize to all my supporters, for it is true: in my living room, the MLB Network has temporarily taken the place of American Idol. Two weeks have gone by and I haven’t watched a single A.I. episode. I know, I know. This situation is difficult to accept for all. But believe me when I say it hurts me more than it hurts you. For some reason, Barry Larkin’s nonsensical ramblings and Al Leiter’s delusions of grandeur are just way more entertaining than Ryan Seacrest’s hair and Simon Cowell’s cliche Britishness.
Don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right.
Well, “they” were wrong about something. Guns N’ Roses have officially released “Chinese Democracy” but the People’s Republic of China is still, well, the People’s Republic of China. Nice work, Axl. “Chinese Democracy” did come along before Chinese democracy. Sometimes proving the other guys wrong is a victory in and of itself.
Sadly, my good friend Mr. Lung is no Axl Rose. Now, god love him, he sure tries and you would think from his tag line (“Don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right”) that he is often right. But, that would make you just as wrong as the anonymous “they.” Simply saying something doesn’t make it true.
For instance, if you were to ask Mr. Lung about Lou Piniella winning the NL Manager of the Year award this year, he’d say something like, “And how is it that Lou Piniella received the Manager of the Year Award?” I know this because that is exactly what he did say earlier this month. Now, I didn’t address this somewhat egregious statement at the time but I feel it is only fair to do so now.
The fact of the matter is that Lou deserved that award. Yes, he had a great team given to him and yes, there were very high expectations. But he also proved his managerial chops in navigating a way through those high salaries and high-strung temperaments. He made a bold and at first maligned move by switching Kerry Wood to closer and it ended up paying off huge dividends. He found a way to work around Soriano’s injuries and even packed away Michael Barrett when it became obvious that he and Zambrano couldn’t be in the same clubhouse. For charting those waters while in the glare of the Chicago media alone I’d say he deserved the award, not to mention the best record in the NL and a second consecutive playoff berth.
So, Mr. Lung, I guess my advice to you is to leave the boasts and the idle threats to those who do them best. You, my friend, are no Hugo Chavez nor should you aspire to be.
I have been accused by some people of writing too much about Venezuela on this blog. But it’s hard not to write about this wonderfully dysfunctional country when they just keep finding ways to amuse. Now, if Mr. McCain were our president I’m sure he would have already gone in and occupied the country since war is the first and only answer.
However, cooler minds had prevailed up until this point and we had managed to stay out of a p!ssing match with our South American wannabe nemesis.
In the same way I have tried to avoid conflict with my friend and co-blogger, Mr. Lung. I figured that by letting him say what he wanted and not responding, I could avoid the tension and childish escalations that now define the U.S.-Venezuela relationship. In both instances, those days are now behind us. From now on, I will call it exactly like I see it.
Mr. Lung, you are wrong about instant replay. Reviewing disputed home run calls makes the game more just. And the game stops for less time than a commercial break so where’s the continuity problem many opponents have decried? If there were umps down the baselines in the outfield like there are in the playoffs, then you might have an argument. But there aren’t so I’ll have to kindly ask you to go home. You have 72 hours to pack your bags and leave.
Now, I hope this doesn’t provoke some sort of diplomatic incident. I hope you don’t get sick on some sushi and throw up all over my shoes. And I hope you will still continue to sell me your otherwise unrefinable crude oil.
However, if I may be so bold, I would like to make one final effort and extend an olive branch to my once and future friend. And this symbol of peace comes, strangely enough, directly from President Chavez’s rambling diatribe dismissing the US ambassador this week. I think we can all agree on this one thing:
F—ing Yankees indeed.
Regular readers of RSBS know that I have a special place in my heart for Venezuela. And really, why not? It’s a fascinating place and lends itself to all sorts of interesting discussion. They have a wealth of oil, a wealth of baseball talent, a wealth of beauty and wealth of crazy. And since Jeff and I both share an affinity for two out of those four things it’s only fitting that RSBS take up the debate.
My partner here at RSBS pointed out in a comment on a recent post:
“The Venezuela team (including Maggs, Santana, Cabrera etc) is threatening to not compete in the WBC sighting (sic) poor per diems and lack of organization as reasons not to play.”
Now, why would elite baseball players making millions of dollars per year threaten to pull out of the World Baseball Classic over some measly travel and lodging expenses? Personally, I think it has something to do with a much deeper rooted problem endemic to Venezuela.
Yes, in a land with so much wealth the unfortunate fact is that this wealth has been unequally distributed. And I’m not talking about the oil money which has accrued in the hands of well connected elites. No, I’m talking about the fact that while Venezuelan women are beautiful and have won more beauty championships than the women from any other country, the Venezuelan men seem to have lost out in the looks department. So of course they act out via other avenues.
Luckily for them, the Venezuelan men men are eerily good baseball players. Rumor has it that El Presidente himself actually joined the military in order to make his way to Caracas and play baseball. Apparently he got a little sidetracked on the way but others among his compadres have made their way into the Major Leagues where they have had major impacts. From Carlos and Ozzie Guillen to Asdrubal and Miguel Cabrera, Venezuelan baseball players are integral to the success of many MLB teams. But they just aren’t very good looking.
So, when you’ve got talent but you look like a toad, what’s a guy to do? Well, either you move to the US and become a highly-paid baseball superstar. Or, you throw a coup, invite the whole country and hope the oil party keeps raging. Go-go-go Hugo.
Since I never seem to find myself in a place that my hometown (from across the state) Tigers like to visit, I’m usually limited to one or two live games in a year. This year, I only had one chance and that day was last Saturday as Detroit visited Baltimore for what promised to be an easy four-game series. Well, let’s just say that neither the game nor the series went the way they were supposed to go. The Tigers hammered Daniel Cabrera in the first inning but then managed to not only let the Orioles back into the game but even found a way to lose it. And they dropped 2 of the four games. So, I’m not writing about the game or the series. I’m writing about what I saw at the game instead.
First off, If you’ve never been to Camden Yards, go. The tickets are cheap, the views are great and chances are that if you came to watch another team play the Orioles, you’re going to go home happy. However, I have a bone to pick with the management. Why can’t I buy a beer in a souvenir cup? I don’t want a Pepsi. I don’t want a Diet Pepsi. I want a beer and I want it in a plastic cup that has the Oriole’s season schedule and whatever happens to be the catch-phrase of the year on it. I do this everywhere I go and up til now it hasn’t been a problem. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the cup I got from Yankee Stadium because I can spit sunflower seed husks into it and it feels like I’m somehow spitting on the Yankees. That’s a good feeling. But how can I spit on the Orioles if they won’t give me a cup? Yes, I finally broke down and bought a lemonade because it was really freakin’ hot but a part of me is still outraged. It’s un-American.
And speaking of un-American, the Orioles tossed out a special welcome to the Venezuelan Embassy, employees of which happened to be in attendance at Saturday’s game. I suppose this shouldn’t have come as a surprise since half the players on the field had some sort of Venezuelan connection and we were only an hour’s drive from Washington D.C. And it was nice to see some of the Venezuelan players come through during the game; for instance, Miguel Cabrera hit a three-run shot in the first inning. But there’s just something a little strange about a group of people enjoying the classic American pastime while their president says things like: “I hereby accuse the North American empire of being the biggest menace to our planet.” I’m just saying…
But, despite the unfortunate ending to the game, the crowd’s even more unfortunate adoration of “the wave” and the disproportionately large and drunk meat-head a few rows in front of me, it was good to see my team play. It gives you a similar kind of feeling to the one you get when you find out that the blog you (kind of) help write has now moved up from fifth to fourth place in the standings. At this rate, we might even make the playoffs! There are playoffs, right?