But having immensely enjoyed the 30th Olympiad from London thus far, the truth is, I don’t miss it at all. In fact, if I want to watch the best baseball in the entire world, I just flip over to any of the 15 games being broadcast on my DirectTV Extra Innings package (do I get a credit for that plug?).
And really, that’s the only reason needed for not including baseball as an Olympic sport. Remember how excruciating it used to be watching Olympic basketball without the finest athletes in the world participating? And that’s in a sport lucky enough to have worldwide appeal. Sure, we US Americans love our baseball, but the truth is, outside of Japan and a few pockets of Canadian air, the rest of the world could care less.
In fact, unless you grow up around the game of baseball, it’s pretty darn impossible to learn the rules of the game. Believe me, during my four years in China, I tried like crazy to teach it to anyone who would listen. But after a few hours of mass confusion, people tended to pretend they had to be somewhere, anywhere, just to get away from the crazy white guy wielding a stick and three different leather gloves.
Honestly, a professional-less international baseball tournament would be a pretty boring affair. The World Baseball Classic already features the best of the best, and even that has proven to be an extremely hard sell.
What makes the Olympic games so appealing, to me, is that it really is a celebration of glory. The absolute greatest athletes in their respective sports, from LeBron James to Roger Federer, Mary Keitany to Usain Bolt and hundreds more in between, all come to the same place, and the world is watching.
Albert Pujols ain’t gonna show up. Neither is Derek Jeter nor any other Major League Baseballer. And even if they did, the world wouldn’t care.
IOC Chairman Jacque Rogge’s original statement to MLB columnist Mark Newman sums it up pretty well:
“To be on the Olympic program is an issue where you need universality as much as possible. You need to have a sport with a following, you need to have the best players and you need to be in strict compliance with WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). And these are the qualifications that have to be met. When you have all that, you have to win hearts. You can win the mind, but you still must win hearts.”
Oh yeah, then there’s that whole juicing thing…
Hate me ‘cuz I’m cool with the Olympics as is, just don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right.
Whenever I need to escape, I like to think about Iran and our wonderful 3 decade long competition. What’s impressive is that since the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979, there have always been new ways to exploit the tension, both politically and artistically.
Of course the most famous of these exploitations has to be the years of enmity between Hulk Hogan and the Iron Sheik. The two went back and forth, always finding a new way to up the ante in their ongoing feud. It wasn’t just entertainment, it was sport for a country looking for a villain and a hero.
That’s one of the beautiful things about sports in America. We tend to be really good at them so no matter how things may be going geo-politically, we can always come back to our athletic achievements. That’s part of the reason why the Olympic basketball loss to the Russians in 1972 was so devastating. It’s also why the 1980 Lake Placid “Miracle on Ice” was so satisfying. It’s probably also why we really don’t even pay attention during the World Baseball Classic.
But recently we had another one of those moments of pride and it once again involved wrestling and Iran. There was no grandstanding for the crowd this time, though. Just a simple non-look that says “I owned you.”
Where’s your Iron Sheik now, Iran? Huh?
Both my co-blogger and I are fond of running. It’s a great way to stay in shape and clear your mind at the end of a long day or even longer week. But it has its dangers:
Running, despite it’s bloody nipples and shin splints, is generally safe. If you want to get really serious about injuries, just look at football, basketball and hockey. I winced this past Sunday as Austin Collie took a cheap shot to the head and felt a little sick as the play was reviewed multiple times while he was strapped down and carted off the field. That’s no joke.
In fact, it really seems that baseball has the least amount of catastrophic injuries when it comes to major sports. Sure, pitchers undergo an unenviable amount of wear and tear but when injuries arise, it’s usually the result of chronic, repetitive motion as opposed to some sort of instantaneous blowout like you see in football or hockey.
Obviously much of this lack of catastrophic injury comes from the fact that there is very little person to person contact in baseball. When players collide, it’s usually an accident. Or the Mets attempting to play the outfield. Football and other sports demand a level of violence that baseball just doesn’t approach.
Maybe this also explains baseball’s unfortunate drop in popularity. What used to be our national pastime has not only fallen behind NASCAR in viewership, it has also become a sport where we rarely compete for the top place. Sure, we’ll always play in the World Baseball Classic but that’s mainly because so few countries can even field teams. Clearly we can’t compete at the same level as the Japanese, the Dominicans or even our own territory, Puerto Rico.
Maybe it says more about us as a country, though, that we prefer sports ruled by mindlessness and brutishness to sports like baseball and running where the mental aspect is almost as important as being able to physically perform. Or maybe it just illustrates how we feel about bloody nipples.
And so in this Podcast…
Dear readers galore FINALLY get to meet THE one, the ONLY, Mr. Allen Krause as he joins Jeff and Johanna to discuss all things urgent, all things necessary. And it’s all made possible by science. And hard work. And Skype. Judge for yourself. Among the titillating
topics of discussion: Strasburg as Jesus, the difference between anathema and an enema (it’s important), starting a Pete Rose for US WBC Team Player/Manager petition on Facebook, Gallaraga’s thingy, the Lou Piniella Mailbag and much,
to the RSBS Podcast by clicking *HERE*
via iTunes by clicking *HERE*
thanks to Keith Carmack — our engineer, director, editor and
all-around sound guru. His Undercast
podcast is the bomb shizzy, by the way. It’s available on iTunes and
is posted regularly at Undercard
Recorded Wednesday, June 23, 2010
When the NHL switched it’s All-Star game format in the late 90’s from the typical conference vs. conference match-up to a North America vs. The World battle royale, it seemed to herald the dawn of a new, global style of sport. Of course there are the Olympics and the World Cup but if sports like hockey were going to take on an internationalist bent, it was only a matter of time before the whole world came on-board.
Five years later the game reverted back to it’s traditional format and globalism had lost a bit of its luster but the overall move towards a more universal sporting life continued to pick up steam.
Just take a look around the major American sports. The NBA is still dominated by Americans but Europeans, South Americans and even the Chinese have become stars in their own right. The NFL is probably the only league that can still claim to be nearly 100% American but that probably owes much to the fact that the rest of the world is more than happy with their own version of football.
Even the most traditionally American of sports has taken on a greater international context in the past decade with the creation of the World Baseball Classic. And MLB has no plans to stop there. Just this past week it was reported that Bud Selig has been in discussions with his Japanese counterpart for a match-up between the two countries’ respective champions. Maybe it’s only two countries at this point but there’s no doubt that baseball will follow soccer’s lead and institutes some sort of World Club Championships pitting the best club teams from around the world against each other.
It makes sense. There seems to be no end to what consumers are willing to suck up and with all the money to be made from the merchandising, not to mention the actual playing of these games, the different national leagues would be foolish not to join in. Bud Selig will do anything at this point to have his legacy be something other than the steroid era and this would definitely be one way to do that.
Lost in all this is the fact that despite its near collapse a few seasons ago, the NHL may have had it right after all. You can fight globalization and maybe you’ll win some battles. But the war has already been won and it’s here to stay. Baseball appears ready to embrace that.
Baseball, Apple Pie & Lobster
While still behind the modern US American game in terms of global appeal, Japanese baseball does have a special place in the universe of our national pastime. Indeed it has evolved much beyond the infant and fundamentally challenged Chinese game and the linguistically worldly fella in me likes to think that even Japanese basebrawls tend to be a bit more aggressive than their Korean counterparts’ elusive yet intriguing pitcher’s mound chicken dance routine. Still, there is more to it than that.
During my first year in China, I had a Japanese roommate named Hayashi Nobuhide. Nobby — as we white devils called him because, well, it was easier to pronounce — was a rabid baseball fan. In fact, our friendship, which was predestined to be rocky due to 60 years of bad history, was solidified by our matched passion for the game.
Some of my fondest memories revolve around us getting up at 5am to watch the 1999 World Series during which he vehemently professed his equally tired hatred of the New York Yankees — for they were, to Nobby and his Japanese brethren, holistically representative of “all that’s bad with America” (his words, not mine, though most probably true, especially when considering the likes of Roger Clemens, Chuck Knoblauch and Tony Tarasco).
And that year, Nobby cheered on the Atlanta Braves just like any other rabid Japanese nationalist: while wearing a Seattle Mariners cap.
Ichiro! Ichiro! Ichiro!
“But what about Hideki Irabu?” I asked.
“**** that traitor! Go Ichiro!” he replied.
“But Ichiro’s not playing.”
“He should be! ICHIRO!!!”
To hear Nobby tell it, Ichiro Suzuki was more popular, more influential, more inspiring than Jesus Christ himself (not to mention having a better stylist). Everything about Ichiro, from his odd pregame warmups to his ritualized on-deck routine to his classic power pose at the plate was unequivocally all-things Japanese: systematic, graceful and proud.
Consider the fact that this undying allegiance came during the height of the steroid era, and I gotta admit, Nobby had a damn good point:
Sensationalized as the above may be, the truth remains: Ichiro is powerful.
And now, that power has multiplied. The Japanese gifts continue to grace diamonds all across US America. From Ichiro Suzuki to Takashi Saito to
Kaz Matsui Kosuke Fukudome Hiroki Kuroda, the game has plenty of room for Japanese imports.
If we’re lucky, maybe someday we can even borrow the Hiroshima Toyo mascot; ‘cuz nothin’ says powerhouse baseball like a wet, smelly Carp.
Don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right.
Word on the street is that the NFL is seriously discussing holding the Super Bowl in London sometime in the near future. Now, this should probably be taken with a grain of salt since the commissioner apparently has no knowledge of these negotiations. However, to be fair, the amount of stuff that Goodell doesn’t know could fill a couple oceans.
It just goes to show how global sports have become, though, even sports that we consider inherently American. The World Baseball Classic illustrated this a couple months ago and the coverage of Olympic basketball last summer outshone everything except Michael Phelps.
But if you ever had any doubts about the true worldwide saturation of sports, perhaps this will change your mind:
Yep, “Stick a fork in them, the run is over.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
-Video via Deadspin
Once again, all is right with the world. Well, at least half a world away it is. Japan proved again last night that the only way to win consistently is the small-ball way. And they have some pretty good credentials to back it up now. Two for two in the World Baseball Classic? Yep, I’d say that tells us all we need to know.
But to go back a little, the game between the US and Japanese teams the other night felt kind of familiar. A scrappy team with only a couple household names beats the longball launching representatives of the American heartland. Is this 2006 all over again? And with Adam Dunn manning first base as if he took fielding instructions from tape of the Tigers’ 2006 World Series pitchers, it hit a little too close to home. Why is it that the teams I support field like Nadya Suleyman’s doctor?
The thing is, this should be a happy time. Baseball is back and after a couple week hiatus the regular season officially begins. We no longer have to worry about a potentially disturbing summer at the Jersey Shore and even my beloved and much maligned home state is slowly coming to grips with reality. As if that wasn’t enough, dreams come true next year when for only $194k, you can have your own flying car!
But it just doesn’t feel quite right when the country that invented baseball can’t win at baseball. It’s a good thing there are pole-dancing bears out there or I’d have no reason to ever get out of bed again.
Despite the late-inning dramatics and clutch hitting by Team America,
the World Baseball Classic will be especially notable to MLB managers
because of the rash of injuries that has hit the players. With
important team leaders like Chipper Jones, Kevin Youkilis and Ryan
Braun suffering injuries, how do you think this will effect teams’
decisions to let their players participate next time around?
The World Baseball Classic, still in its infancy, is similar in that it has yet to find the perfect balance of entertainment and logic. We, the viewers, cannot expect it to be the perfect international tournament it aims to be — not yet at least.
There are naysayers. There are those who feel the Classic is a colossal waste of time. There are general managers and agents and players and pundits who see it as a liability more than an asset. And I understand their points of view.
If I were Omar Minaya or Theo Epstein or Frank Wren and I was forced to watch my best players risk injury in the name of a “friendly” tournament with seemingly zero tangible gain, I guess I would be a little ticked off too. But I believe the World Baseball Classic is more than just a King Bud money machine meant to get more people interested in Major League Baseball around the world. To me, it is a showcase of the most talented players on the planet: a baseball bravura boasting a playoff-like atmosphere during the most boring weeks of spring training.
And whether ballplayers are playing in the WBC or in Jupiter, Florida or with their kids at home, guys are going to get hurt.
Just ask Joel Zumaya about his Guitar Hero hangup.
Or just ask Aaron Boone about his penchant for pickup basketball.
Or just ask Ken Griffey, Jr. about wrestling with his children.
And while the easy way out is to say let us put an end to this World Baseball Classic for good and focus on the regular season, players are still going to find ways to injure themselves on and off the field. Personally, I would rather see a guy get hurt for his country than a video game.
The WBC only happens every few years, folks. Eventually, the kinks will be worked out. In the meantime, the foreseen benefits of firing up an entire baseball-following planet are far and beyond more plentiful than the occasional injury risks inherited by players, teams and front offices.
The truth is: baseball (yet again) was light years behind the rest of sports in not having an authentic international forum. And while the rewards of the Classic won’t be seen for another twenty years or so when little Chen Jianguo and Mario Perugino and Ned van Flanders are all grown up and starting superstars in the Majors, I think we all owe it to the world to give this tournament a chance — and most of all, to enjoy it.
But just to be safe, we should all continue to pray to the baseball gods that our team’s best players escape injury free and refrain from jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch.
Don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right.
I enjoyed Tropic Thunder. I understand why some people boycotted seeing it and I appreciate their arguments but I also think the movie made a valid point about the treatment of the mentally retarded in popular entertainment. Maybe that’s why I was a little taken aback this past week when President Obama made a Special Olympics joke on The Tonight Show. It wasn’t so much that he made the joke because, let’s be honest, most of us have probably made a Special Olympics joke at some point in our lives. I know I have. But as a friend once told me, “It’s not really fair to make jokes at the expense of a group that can’t defend itself.” And it’s not what I expected from this President.
But I was surprised that I experienced an eerily similar feeling yesterday when I checked in at RSBS and read:
As if facing Team Japan in the World Baseball Classic’s upcoming
semifinals isn’t enough pressure on the already limping USA squad…There is much more to fear… for example: Rape! Dear readers, Ted Bundy, Mike Tyson, Kobe Bryant… these guys ain’t got nuthin’ on the Japanese.
Now, I’m not disputing my friend and colleague’s point about the horrific events that took place in Nanking. As a self-confessed sino-phile, I’m sure he is eminently qualified to talk about this tragedy. Beyond that, the historical record tells us that Japanese troops were indeed responsible for those atrocities. But to imply that the current Japanese national baseball team has any connection to that event seems like fear-mongering at best and outright xenophobia at worst.
There are legitimate reasons to fear the Japanese. The US team has been decimated by injuries. The Japanese took apart an excellent Cuban team. And Team USA’s in-game management has been mediocre at best. But there is no reason to resort to tired stereotypes when pointing out the Americans’ impending doom.
Now, I’m sure that no offense was intended and that my co-author was merely attempting to use his post as a satrirical parody of turn of the 20th Century “Yellow Journalism” in America. But, perhaps my friend Jeffy should be mindful of Little Jeffy’s prescient channeling of Friedrich Nietzsche as illustrated above. And Jeffy, don’t hate him ‘cuz he’s right.