According to the public relations division of MLB Network, the World Baseball Classic did well in the United States ratings. The finals drew 2.3 million viewers, which made it the second-most viewed game ever on the network, topped only by a Cubs-Giants playoff game from this past fall.
No doubt, it helped that the U.S. made the finals for the first time since the tournament began in 2006.
The World Baseball Classic always has made me uneasy. Guys gets hurt. (Didi Gregorius of the Yankees). Also, the MLB Network sacrifices its objectivity in reporting on the event and the stories leading up to it. The WBC is broadcast mostly by MLB Network, which means its analysts realize if they criticize the tournament, they risk the wrath of their superiors.
One telling moment came in the finals when broadcaster Matt Vasgersian asked analyst John Smoltz about the non-stop music played in the stands during the game. The politically correct Smoltz hesitated, then changed the subject. Perhaps he felt any criticism of the atmosphere wouldn’t be well-received by his bosses.
Even so, that doesn’t bother me as much as the tournament’s biggest problem — the best players don’t play. Baseball’s two best third basemen (Josh Donaldson and Kris Bryant) and right fielders (Mookie Betts and Bryce Harper) missed the tournament. So did the best shortstop (Corey Seager), center fielder (Mike Trout) and left fielder (Ryan Braun). Those rankings come straight from MLB Network’s preseason analysis, which it unveils in a series of top 10 lists.
All of the top 10 pitchers (including Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Max Scherzer, Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester) didn’t play. The top reliever (Andrew Miller) and first baseman (Paul Goldschmidt) didn’t get off the bench for the finals.
Instead of the World Baseball Classic, it’s the World Baseball Pretty Good. Either tell the best players to participate or stop pretending it’s something great when it isn’t.