First of all, the WBC est arrive! Two games a day from the Asian pool in Japan--sadly, one of them starting around 4:00 AM EST. So far, Japan and South Korea have impressed, China and Taiwan (or "Chinese Taipei") not so much so. Korea starts an entire outfield with the surname "Lee."
Although the Asians are already playing, the rest of the world is just tuning up. Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Al Leiter left for Phoenix yesterday, to commence their search for WBC...er, Gold? Do these guys even get medals if they win?
Whatever they get, Team USA's chances took a decided upturn this week when three future Hall of Famers begged off the WBC for the Dominican Republic. The most predictable of these was Pedro Martinez, who has been struggling since last year with a damaged big toe. Although this is a loss for Team DR, Mets fans might feel some relief that their ace won't be taxing himself in the pre-season. Manny Ramirez says he isn't ready to play, but whether that's a measure of his physical shape or mental preparation is an open question. Vlad Guerrero's problems are on the mental and emotional side--he lost three cousins this week in an auto accident. Our condolences go out to him, and his family.
The idea's out there that these losses for Team DR mean that the tournament is now a meaningless side show. After all, the point of the competition was to see DR's murderer's row of Ramirez, Vlad, Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, and Miguel Tejada, against the Yankee top of the order (Damon, Jeter, Rodriguez) Barry Bonds, Derrick Lee, Vernon Wells, and Chipper Jones.
With Bonds, Manny, and Vlad out of action, the super-duper All Star Team feel of this event is certainly diminished; but the real test will come with the games, and the crowds. As we saw with the Caribbean World Series, you don't need All-Stars at every position to get a crowd excited for the national team. If the games are good enough--that is, if the better teams don't treat this like an All-Star exhibition, the WBC will have made a fine enough debut.
Back to Team USA, prior to the stars' (and Al Leiter's) departure, the Yanks opened up Legends Field, complete with fireworks, F-15 flyover, and all that jazz. You can't say that George Steinbrenner doesn't care. Nonetheless, the display wasn't enough to make any of his high-priced stars give up this WBC foolishness and stay in Yankee Spring Training, where they belong (in George's mind at least). The beat goes on...
A few notes:
- Let the hand-wringing begin! The first serious injury of the WBC has been reported: South Korean cleanup hitter Kim Dong Joo has a broken bone in his shoulder, expected to sideline him for at least three months. Dong Joo, Korea's starting thirdbaseman, suffered the injury on a head-first slide into first base against Chinese Taipei on Friday--which is just further confirmation that the slide into first is one of the dumbest plays in baseball.
- Headline in Newsday reads "Specter of Injury Haunts Wright." My first reaction was, Will Carroll may be losing weight, but calling him a "specter" is sheer hyperbole. Seriously, Jaret Wright talks with candor to Jim Baumbach about how afraid he is that he'll get hurt again. I appreciate the candor, but where was this prior to him signing a big-money deal with the Yanks? I wonder if Wright ever asks himself if he could have stayed healthy, if only he'd remained with Leo Mazzone and the Braves.
- One more note about the Negro League election. Among the 17 persons inducted by the special committee were five executives--Effa Manley, Alex Pompez, Cum Posey, J.L. Wilkinson, and Sol White. Going into this election, there were 24 Executives and Pioneers in the Hall, and one of them, Rube Foster, was previously inducted through the Negro League process. That means that in one jump, the size of the execs "wing" of the Hall of Fame rose by 17%, and that roughly a quarter of the top executives in baseball history came out of the Negro Leagues or its predecessors (for this purpose, I'm eliminating guys who were solely pioneers, like Candy Cumming, Henry Chadwick, and George Wright). Not to begrudge anyone the honors bestowed upon them--and this isn't a rhetorical question--but does that seem a bit high to anyone? Is it low? Just right?
- Speaking of the new inductees, the Battle of the Buck has highlit some of the downsides of one inductee, Alex Pompez, who apparently once ran an illegal gambling ring, and at one point fled the U.S. while under indictment. Personally, I doubt that makes Mr. Pompez a worse person than Ty Cobb, but I'm sure that it might breathe new life into the partisans behind Pete Rose's candidacy. Yuck.