Why team USA are getting their clocks cleaned in the WBC…

[tag]Team USA[/tag] are embarassing to watch. Last night they got their proverbial asses handed to them by the [tag]Koreans[/tag]. In the first round of [tag]the Classic[/tag] they got thumped by the [tag]Canadians[/tag]. And in the first game of the current round they only won by virtue of an extremely bad call on the part of the umps. Lots of people are watching and saying to themselves, “hey, what’s going on here?”

It’s a valid question. Not only does Team USA feature heavyweight players like [tag]Alex Rodriguez[/tag], [tag]Derek Jeter[/tag], [tag]Jason Varitek[/tag] and [tag]Johnny Damon[/tag] but, well, there’s just no getting around this, baseball was invented here. So what’s going on?

The first and most obvious problem is the manager. [tag]Buck Martinez[/tag] stank as a manager in the big leagues and he stinks as the manager of Team USA in the [tag]WBC[/tag]. He’s made idiotic choices repeatedly, like sitting [tag]Derek Lee[/tag], Team USA’s best hitter so far, and Johnny Damon last night in favor of far lesser players. He’s managing this like a little league tournament and doesn’t seem to understand that he’s not there to get everyone a chance to play, he’s there to win.

The second problem has to do with what’s happened to baseball in the USA in the past generation or so. American baseball has become a boutique sport played by an increasingly small segment of the population. Where baseball used to be the game of the masses, played by kids every chance they got in every neighborhood across the country it is now mainly a sport of affluent, suburban kids who play only in organized leagues. Not only is the pick-up game a thing of the past, but poor and working class kids just do not play at all, partially because they lack access to facilities, like baseball fields, to play on but also because other sports have usurped baseball’s position in the big cities of America.

To put it another way, inner city black kids play basketball or football, not baseball. And the suburban kids who do play baseball play it for a small part of the year and then turn their interests to [tag]soccer[/tag], [tag]tai-kwan-do[/tag], [tag]lacrosse[/tag], (ok, small tangent here: Lacrosse? Are these kids stupid? Never was a sport more dangerous and less fun.) [tag]football[/tag] and (gasp) [tag]tennis[/tag]. Unless you live in the greater [tag]San Diego[/tag] area baseball is just not a big deal in the US anymore.

The result of this cultural change is that the folks who do become professional baseball players come up in the sport with a huge sense of entitlement. The little leaguer in my own house is obsessed with how much baseball players make. It’s more important, I dare say, to him that Alex Rodriguez makes $25 million a year than it is that he’s one of the greatest players of his generation. His own ambitions to be a professional baseball player are never voiced in the context of how wonderful it would be to be a great and admired athlete or to make a living doing something that is so purely fun. Nope, they’re all discussed in the context of how rich he’d be.

This is why the US is getting pasted by, well, everyone. Professional baseball players from [tag]Japan[/tag], [tag]Korea[/tag], [tag]Venezuela[/tag], the [tag]Dominican Republic[/tag], [tag]Puerto Rico[/tag], [tag]Cuba[/tag], [tag]Mexico[/tag] and, dare I say it, even [tag]Canada[/tag] come at the game from a different angle. Being able to live their lives as baseball players means more to them. Unlike their peers from the US these men don’t stop playing baseball once October ends. These are the people who, once the big league season is over, head for the[tag] winter leagues[/tag] in the Caribean. Not one of these guys is playing like he’s worried about getting hurt. A big part of that comes from the simple fact that they’ve been playing all year and training all year. They do this because they lack the sense of entitlement their American peers carry with them that says “From November to March I’m going to sit on my ass. I’ll get ready to play in Spring Training.”

People ask why it is that [tag]Roger Clemens[/tag] can still be one of the top pitchers in baseball at the age of 43. Roger shares the same committment to his sport that players from the Caribean and [tag]South America[/tag] have. He trains all year. And that’s why he’ll retire soon. Not because he’s tired of playing baseball but because his committment to the game is wearing him out year round. He’s one of the few players on Team USA who has performed to the level expected of him.

So far I’ve really enjoyed the WBC, and true to my contrary nature I’m rooting for Cuba to go all the way, and I sincerely hope they do. Watching them play with all their hearts is inspiring. It’s also just damn good baseball. Watching the US team fumble it’s way along, winning only when their opponents are either feeble or when the umps help them out is painful. Unfortunately, if Team USA is eliminated before the Semis it probably spells doom for future WBC events, at least from a televised network perspective, but realistically getting them and their lolly-gagging butts out of there quickly will make the remaining games far more competitive and interesting. A final match between Japan and Cuba would be fantastic.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: