National Pride Spurs Million-Dollar Players in Baseball Classic

By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - Many professional baseball players, accustomed to earning multimillion-dollar salaries for a game they love, are putting national pride ahead of personal profit by volunteering to participate in what is professional baseball's first true World Series, running March 3-20.

While their teammates in the 30 U.S. Major League Baseball clubs prepare to open their season in April, players representing the United States and 15 other teams from around the world are beginning what is hoped to be a global event held every four years.

Organizers see what is called the World Baseball Classic (WBC) as a replacement for baseball's participation in the Summer Olympic Games.  Baseball will be eliminated from Olympic competition following the 2008 games in Beijing.

The WBC, with teams competing from around the world, also will allow the sport to call its tournament global in the truest sense, as with soccer's World Cup championship.  Major League Baseball calls its championship the World Series, even though the 30 teams in the league are from only the United States and Canada.

Tommy Lasorda, who was the longtime "manager" (head coach) of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the U.S. major leagues, called winning the WBC "bigger" than winning the World Series because the global tournament allows players to win a championship for their country.  The event, he said, is about bringing baseball to the world and not about money.

The passion driving players' participation in the WBC might have been best expressed by Venezuela's Magglio Ordonez, of the Detroit Tigers.  The classic, he told the Detroit News, is "real important.  We represent our country, with a chance to face the best players from other countries.  I think it's going to be interesting."

Ordonez said that he had to play for his native Venezuela because of the intense national pride his countrymen feel for their team.

"They're really into this," he said about the passionate baseball fans in Venezuela.  "I have a satellite [dish] from Venezuela, and all they're talking about" is the WBC.

Johnny Damon of the New York Yankees, who is playing for Team USA, said the classic will provide him the "only opportunity I might have to represent my country.  I'm thrilled about it.  It's just awesome representing" the United States.

Another U.S. player, Brad Lidge, says the classic might well live up to its name.

"It's going to be an amazing event," he said.  "When you've got all the premier players in the game playing, there's really nothing better."


The motivation for staging the 16-team competition stems from what Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig calls his sport's priority to internationalize baseball.

"We're doing everything we can to move the sport in an international direction.  I think it's going to be absolutely spectacular," he said about the WBC.

U.S. player Ken Griffey Jr. has another motivating factor driving him to play in the WBC: his father and former major league ballplayer Ken Griffey Sr.

Griffey Jr.'s superstar career has made it virtually certain he will be voted into baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  But in his long career, he never has belonged to a team that won the major league's World Series.  The senior Ken Griffey won two World Series championships in 1975 and 1976.

Winning the two World Series is something his father "doesn't let me forget," said the younger Griffey.  But if Team USA wins the WBC, the younger Griffey's world championship might be more valid.

Responding to written questions from the Washington File, Griffey, of the Cincinnati Reds, says participating in the global classic will be his first chance to represent the United States in sports competition.  He was drafted for the major leagues out of high school, and never played for the U.S. baseball team in the Olympics or in any other international competition.

U.S. stars such as Griffey say money is not a factor in their participation in the WBC.  "Money is not an issue," Griffey said.  "If we didn't feel the tournament was important, we wouldn't be playing" in the event.  Griffey calls it an "honor" to be named on the final 30-man U.S. playing roster for the WBC.

The 16 teams in the WBC are divided into four groups.  In Group A are South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and China.  Group B consists of the United States, Mexico, Canada and South Africa.  In Group C are Cuba, the Netherlands, Panama and Puerto Rico, while Group D consists of Australia, the Dominican Republic, Italy and Venezuela.  In the first two games of the tournament, played March 3 in Tokyo, South Korea defeated Taiwan 2-0, while Japan beat China 18-2.

Round one of the tournament is being played March 3-10.  Two teams from each of the four groups advance to round two, played March 12-16.  Four teams advance to the semifinal games on March 18, with the winners of the semifinals playing in the championship game on March 20 in San Diego.

The WBC will have unique rules that differ from how games in the major leagues are decided.  For instance, games in the WBC that are tied after 14 innings are recorded as ties and scored as half a win and half a loss for the two teams playing.  In the major leagues, games almost always continue for as many innings as are needed to decide a winner.

In addition, there will be a provision regarding early termination of games, which does not occur in the majors.  A team ahead in rounds one or two will be named the winner of a game if it is ahead by 10 or more runs (scores) when the opposing team has batted in at least seven innings.  A team ahead by 15 or more runs will be declared the winner when the opposing team has batted in at least five innings.

A complicated formula also applies in the WBC’s limits on the use of pitchers, to reduce their chances of injury.  The major leagues have no such provision.  In the WBC, a pitcher is allowed to throw only 65 pitches per game in round one of the tournament, 80 pitches per game in round two, and 95 pitches in the semifinals and finals of the tournament.

More information on the tournament is available on the World Baseball Classic Web site.

For information on the role of sports in American life, see Sports.